I worked in Dubai for a year, so I love the city and know it pretty well. And it’s always a pleasure to go back there. This time, I went to Dubai for a week-long training. After the training, I decided to stay at my friend’s place for the weekend. For entertainment, I had a choice between going shopping or visiting Dubai Polo Club for some lesson (both are equally expensive). To no one’s surprise, horses won again. :-)
For those who have ridden before but have done mostly show jumping and dressage, polo will feel like being in another planet. Here are a few differences:
- In polo, you should keep all four (!!!) reins and a whip in the left hand and a mallet in the right. If you are left-handed, sorry—life is unfair.
- Nobody is looking for a straight line between your ear, hip, and anklebone—finally! :-)
- Your legs are way more forward than in dressage.
- To turn your horse left or right, you have to completely turn in the saddle so you can see the tail.
- You do not squeeze your horse to go forward; rather, you kick her.
- You can and should bend much more forward while riding.
- You pull the rein to stop the horse.
- To stay in the saddle, you squeeze the horse with your knees instead of your lower legs.
- And more importantly, you don’t have to be a good rider to play polo.
And you know what? Polo ponies are the most honest and accepting horses I’ve ever ridden. They are like automated cars—but better. If you want your polo pony to go forward, you just move your left hand slightly forward. To stop, pull your hand to your face. If you pull your left hand to the stomach, the horse will step back. That’s it! It’s like they have buttons!
But that is not all. Not only do they react to your commands immediately and implicitly, but they actually help you play. For example, my mount, Jasmine, was always chasing the ball for me. And even if I wasn’t quick enough to see where it went after a hit, she would trace it herself and, even before I asked for it, would canter to the direction of the ball.
OK, enough for the pros—let’s talk about the cons now. Of course the worst part of polo is the mallet. It’s not only very heavy (believe me, after 10 minutes with a stretched arm, 4 pounds would feel like at least 4 stones) but also impossible to manage—at least for the first 10 tries.
Thankfully, Steven, my instructor, was very patient and not only told me what to do but also explained why it should be done. He was also constantly cheering for me, which made the lesson way more fun. After a good turn, he would say, “Wait, I need to call Hello! magazine right now! They need to come and take your picture! It’s so nice to have here a person who can actually ride!”
The first time I managed to touch the ball with the mallet (which happened like on the seventh attempt, and “touch” is not an exaggeration as the ball moved only 6 inches forward :-(, he was like, good girl! Now you’re in my team!
Later, I realised that the statement “Now you are in my team” is the greatest compliment a trainee could earn. Of course I was curious which team I was now in:
– “So what is your team?”
– “Argentina, of course!” he said in surprise like it was a very weird question to ask.
– “And when I’m not doing good, which team I’m playing in?”
– “You were playing for Poland. Now you are playing for Argentina.”
The whole experience was a blast! Forty-five minutes of polo lesson went really fast, but boy, there are no words to describe how my muscles sore the next day—all 640 of them. :-)