There are worse people to learn the finer points of polo from than a member of the Australian polo world cup squad. Even more so for someone who’s never sat on a horse before. Thankfully Perth polo player Luke Reid’s love for horses and the sport runs deep.
Reid has played the “sport of kings” for 12 years and is a regular at Perth’s Bentley Polo In The Valley, making him an ideal ambassador for both the sport and event. And although he’s played alongside Prince William and Prince Harry, he’s equally at home showing the ropes to first-timers like me. My introduction to polo and horsemanship takes place at Duncraig Stud, the location of Polo In The Valley. The first thing I learn is how to interact with my steed.
“They don’t like being patted like a dog,” says Reid. “You have to stroke them. Some of the best horses start to follow the polo ball after time and if you pull the reigns slightly to the left, he [my horse, Decimal] will move in that direction.”
Fun fact: all polo players must hold their mallet in their right hands. This might be my first time on horseback but, luckily, I’m right-handed, so I’m not starting on the proverbial back foot.
“It’s like a highway,” says Reid. “If someone was playing right-handed and someone was playing left-handed, you would have a head-on collision when you both go for the ball. They have to play right, no matter what.”
With plenty of guidance and encouragement from Reid I eventually manage to swing the mallet and hit the ball. Even though Decimal and I are only moving at walking pace the achievement still feels exhilarating. How players ride at high speeds without falling off or injuring each other – let alone successfully strike and control a tiny ball – is beyond me.
All that said, I plan to leave my mallet at home on the day of Polo In The Valley and take part in the traditional divot stomp instead. A key part of the polo experience, this half-time ritual involves spectators taking to the field to press patches of upturned grass back into the ground with their feet.
Fashion is one of the other key elements of a day at the polo. Too many polo-goers dress as though they’re at the Spring Racing Carnival rather than embrace polo’s elegance. You don’t have to look like you walked straight out of a Ralph Lauren campaign, just stay relaxed and chic.
Quick guide to dressing for the polo
Wear sensible shoes
Duncraig Stud is all grass, so avoid high-heels.
Elegance is the key
Ladies, favour dresses or pants in a neutral colour palette. Wide leg pants and lace dresses are coming through as a strong trend this season.
Use your head
Headpieces and flower crowns are a no. Hats for men and women are a yes.
It may be a hot day on the field, so sunglasses are a must.
Guys, make sure you are comfortable. A crisp linen or cotton shirt is a winner and a jacket will finish the outfit off nicely. Colour is also acceptable, with shades of dark blue and green popular this season.
For those who want to get into polo or, or who want to know more about it in the lead-up to the event, here are some insider tips.
Polo at a glance
Strong legs and core muscles are a must
Guiding the horse, holding the mallet and leaning over to hit the ball (without falling off) is hard.
Players only hold onto the reigns of their horse and their mallet, not the pommel on the saddle.
Players with longer arms have an advantage with their bigger reach and leverage on the field.
The stick does all the work, so players don’t need to have “strong” arms. Hitting the ball all comes down to the pendulum swing. The correct swing, combined with the weight in the stick, results in successful contact.
Horses wear padding on their legs to protect them from players’ mallets.
Bentley Polo In The Valley is at Duncraig Stud on Sunday April 2 and is a social charity event that raises money for Youth Focus and Telethon. Tickets start from $110 and are available online.