Monday, May 13, 2013

Gaucho Polo Master Class at Royal Berkshire Polo Club With Cool Hooves & England Captain Jamie Morrison


Sometimes you get that phone call... The one that makes you cock your head to the side, scratch your chin and say "What?!" That was pretty much my reaction when the folks at Gaucho Polo called me up last week to see if I'd be interested in attending a master class at the Royal Berkshire Polo Club with professional player Jamie Morrison.  For those of you who aren't familiar, Jamie will captain the England team at the HPA Gaucho International Polo Tournament next week which I'm attending. Tickets are still available at www.gauchopolo.com starting at £20 if you fancy what promises to be an amazing night of sport, wine, food and entertainment!

A lot of things ran through my mind after accepting the offer of said master class, chiefly "How in this world will I be able to play polo?" I'm not exactly the heiress to a horse farm who spends hours a day riding, I'm not particularly sporty and my workouts are infrequent at best. Eventually I convinced myself that the worst that could happen would be having an internationally renowned professional athlete laugh at me while I tumble off a horse Bridget Jones style with a dangerous stick in my hand... I'm happy to say that neither of those happened and while I won't be wearing the England jersey or going up against the likes of Nacho Figueras in this lifetime, I did learn the basics of playing polo! Even more important, I had the time of my life!

My love affair with polo kind of happened by accident. I've always admired it from afar being a bit jealous of the Gossip Girl crowd and reading about the fabulous Hamptons polo scene in Town and Country Magazine. When I accidentally won polo tickets last summer from a contest I didn't even realize I'd entered, I became obsessed with this sport that seems to appeal to even the most unatheletic of people. What I know now that I didn't know then is that 'the sport of kings' isn't just for royalty - polo is a lot more accessible than we think. Sure, it's an incredibly expensive sport - anything involving horses is going to be expensive. There are some exclusive polo matches and enclosures that aren't open to everyone, but there are a lot of polo matches that anyone can watch and though you don't have your own horse, you can still learn to play the sport if you have the time and tuition money handy.


And thus began my day at Cool Hooves Polo at the Royal Berkshire Polo Club, a place where anyone can learn to play polo. We began with a little chat about polo, the dangers, the benefits and the rewards of a successful career while putting on our half-chaps (yes, I wore chaps!) and getting ready for our lessons which were taught in 3 parts: riding, using the mallet and putting it all together.




The Horse

Though I've ridden before, I'm not by any stretch an accomplished rider and it didn't matter. Eddy, my Cool Hooves instructor had me riding confidently in a matter of minutes and taught me how to ride for polo. The most noticeable difference to me was what happens with your hands. Rather than having the luxury of holding onto the horn of a western saddle, polo players must hold on with their legs so they can control the reigns with one hand and hold the mallet with the other. After a while, I got on with it, but in the beginning, I found this part a little nerve-wracking.









Stick it...


After riding lessons, I traded my horse for a short mallet and learned how to swing standing up for a few minutes before getting a longer mallet and mounting a wooden horse. There I practiced several types of shots forwards and backwards on both sides. I suppose I would compare this to golf in a way, but one handed and on a horse... That's the best way I can describe it. From the beginning, my personal concern was learning to swing appropriately so as to not hit my horse - I did however hit myself once, so luckily I was wearing a helmet!



Polo players aren't always sitting - there's a bit of a standing stance that happens. It's difficult to do on a horse if you're a beginner, but it's similar to skiing or doing lunges.






In a way, I almost wished I'd had a lesson before my lesson. It was a little intimidating having Jamie Morrison analyzing my swing and showing me the ropes, but he was super helpful, funny and very nice. It's always a pleasure to learn something new from someone who is truly passionate about their job!





All Together Now...


It seems odd, but once I had my mallet in one hand, I had a better sense of balance than I had without it. Separately, each piece is its own skill, but they all fit together beautifully and it works! Luckily the folks at Cool Hooves are very kind and gave us larger, bright orange balls to make the transition a little easier. I have to say, it's not the most difficult thing in the world after the amazing teaching I received, but polo is not easy... I have even more respect for people who play this magnificent sport now that I've tried it.


Jamie Morrison 




 Jamie Morrison helping me with the timing of my swing













With my horse, Denzel - she's beautiful! 

Chillin with Jamie Morrison after a hard day of sport...

Thank you to Gaucho Polo and Jamie Morrison for the amazing opportunity to learn a little more about polo from a pro before seeing the big tournament next week! I also have to thank the folks at Cool Hooves Polo for being patient, funny and all-around brilliant! I can't wait to go back for another lesson sometime! It's amazing that in just 3 short hours I not only learned about polo, but I'm inspired to try more new sports and go riding more often. 

Jamie Morrison goes head to head with Argentine Captain Nacho Figueras at the upcoming HPA Gaucho International Polo Tournament at the O2 on May 21st. Tickets start from £20 at www.gauchopolo.com. Mixing sport with Argentinian wine tasting, live music and food by Gaucho (YUM!) this event is not to be missed! I'll be there cheering on Jamie and the other England players so I hope to see you there!

For more information on Gaucho Polo, check out their website at www.gauchopolo.com, follow them on twitter at @GauchoPolo and check out the Gaucho Polo Facebook page


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