It’s easy to think that the races and the polo are kind of the same thing. Both are dressy, fun and undeniably horsey days out. How different can they be? One’s a race and one’s a game in the country with sticks and a ball, right?
Well, yes, but there are a few key differences worth being across: the first being that you no longer have to trek out of the city to experience the polo.
“Urban polo is designed for spectators,” says Janek Gazecki, founder of Polo in the City, who first brought the sport to Melbourne's Albert Park in 2005. “Everyone is absolutely adjacent to the field,” he says. Unlike the races where you may go the whole day without seeing a horse, you’ll be able to see and even feel the horses go by. “When the horses gallop past, you feel that thunder in your gut.”
“The horses run at around 60 kilometers an hour,” says Gazecki. “They collide with other horses in a ride-off and there’s a lot of physical jostling for position. It’s a full-contact sport between players and horses.” It’s dangerous, which is why all left-handers were made to play right-handed in 1975. It minimises head-on collisions, which improves the game for the players, horses and spectators.
Polo can be played with elephants, camels, bikes or even Segways, but the original is of the horse variety. Each team fields four players and there are two umpires, making 10 horses in total on the field. An urban game has four quarters – or chukkas – each lasting seven minutes, with additional play for fouls. Goal ends are swapped after every goal scored and there is a short break between each chukka where the players mount different horses. A horse at full gallop lasts around three minutes before exhaustion slows them down, so horses are rotated regularly to ensure they don’t get over-worked.
At half-time, players mingle with the crowd, you can view horses up close and join the traditional stomping of the divots – where you patch the holes in the grass made by horses’ hooves (make sure you’re not wearing stilettos for this bit).
Another key difference between polo and the races is the more relaxed atmosphere. This extends to the dress code. “It’s more casual than the races, but if you do it properly, you can still look a million bucks,” says Gazecki, laughing. “It’s what you might wear to a friend’s fancy barbeque – or outdoors somewhere nice.” For the gentleman that means collared shirts, chinos and casual jackets – even shorts on a hot day. You’ll see plenty of wide-brimmed hats to accommodate the hot weather, and flat shoes or wedges to deal with the grass fields. Leave the fascinator at home.
Finally, the central location of urban polo venues means that even after a day at the field, you can still head out to dinner in the city.