Polo in Ireland is a little known sport. I myself with an equestrian background had no idea it existed really until I was about 18 years of age and a friend asked me to help her to exercise her polo ponies. I began playing competitively 3 years later.
When I say to people that I am a polo player they think and say one thing… “What a glamorous lifestyle!” I can tell you that for all the glamour that is associated with it there is a huge amount of work that goes with it. Polo is a sport and way of life that is labour intensive with it’s early mornings, late nights and whatever nature throws at you in terms of the weather. Polo is traditionally played in the sunshine. In Ireland we have a reputation for playing whatever the weather! We still do it because polo truly is one of the most incredible (and addictive!) sports ever invented. What is key in polo are the horses.
Polo horses are elite athletes. Good horses are finely tuned to be sensitive to the slightest of their riders body movements.
“A polo pony has got to have the speed of a race horse, the tough, quick response of a cow pony and the agility of a show jumper. Then he’s got to have more stamina than any of them.”
– Cecil Smith (10h. USA) (1904-2000)
It truly is incredible the bond between a polo horse and their rider. Your horsemanship and how you ride is a major part of being a polo player too. I’ve been riding all my life but there is still a huge amount to learn. This is why I love this sport… the challenges are never ending. There’s so many different aspects to the game. Its not necessarily about hitting the ball (everyone wants the ball), it’s about your positioning on the field, creating pressure by your position, riding off which is when you are side by side to an opposing player and you try to push them off the line of the ball.
Playing polo is like driving a car on the road. The line of the ball is the track of the ball that has been hit. Players can’t cross that line. Thats the basics of it! There is a whole book of rules which are interpreted during matches by umpires. Fouls are given accordingly. They can be spot hits, hits from the centre of the pitch, 60 yard, 40 yard or 30 yard shots at goal.
You need ideally 4 horses per match. There are 4 quarters in a polo match. (In the faster polo matches you normally have 8 chukkas so that means alot more horses!). Each of these quarters are called chukkas and each are 7.5minutes long. If you think of the amount of time that it takes to prepare, feed, shoe, exercise your horses, it takes up a huge amount of time and effort. Most people have grooms to help with their horses because of this aspect of the sport.
Polo in Ireland is small but those involved are avid apostles! We have about 7 operating clubs in Ireland. Horse Sport Ireland and Irish Horse TV have been incredibly helpful in promoting and supporting the sport. Here is a link to a video documenting a polo tournament in the Phoenix Park in Dublin a couple of years ago.
WOMEN IN POLO:
Women have always been handicapped under the same system as the men until recently. The highest a woman has ever reached in men’s handicaps is 5 goals and the current best female polo player in the world is a lady called Nina Clarkin who has a handicap of 4 goals. The highest handicap a man has ever reached is a 10 goaler. Its like pitting a champion female sprinter against Usain Bolt. Women are physically different to men, have slower reaction speeds, less strength etc. So women have to work twice as hard to achieve the same handicap statuses as men. Will there ever be a woman 10 goaler? A new women’s handicapping system was launched in Argentina and the USA that allowed women to have their own separate handicaps that would be solely used for women’s tournaments. Nina Clarkin is 9 goals in this system. To date there has been no women who has reached 10 goals in women’s handicaps.
Handicap System and Scoring
Women’s polo is growing all over the world with more and more women taking up the sport. In Ireland we have only a couple of women who travel for international women’s tournaments. The first tournament myself and another Irish player Siobhan Herbst travelled to and played together in was in France in 2012 for the 1st French Ladies Open tournament. We came 3rd that year, losing in the semi-final and winning the subsidiary final. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to play in Spain, Malaysia, Germany and Australia with both women’s and mens teams. I spent winter 2014 in New Zealand working on a polo farm with young polo ponies which was an excellent experience.
I for one would love to see more girls and women playing polo. As we know Irish women in sport have skills. Look at our fantastic camogie players, the Irish Women’s rugby team etc. and what has been achieved by Irish sportwomen throughout the decades.
If you have any questions about polo or polo in Ireland or if you would like to have a go at playing, please feel free to email me april [at] knaptonpolo.ie
April Kent - Irish International Polo Player.