By Kerstie Allen
Every school has that kid who was obsessed with horses. I was that kid. I never grew out of the “I love horses” phase. I’d speak, draw and even run like a horse, and still do to this day. On a sunny day, you can still see me lope and possibly change leads as I approach the boards at the polo fields.
I believe horses have made me richer in so many ways and I don’t regret a minute of my horsey life. I have traveled and made forever friends just because we all adore the power and grace of the horse.
Being an equestrian year-round can be challenging, but the luxury of polo is that we’re all mobile and we travel with the seasons. I came to Wellington last year not knowing what to expect. I just knew the weather was going to be amazing and if I was going to play polo anywhere in the world this time of year, this is the place to be.
After spending a season in Wellington, I’ve found the opportunities are endless for anyone interested in learning, working or playing polo. Within a 10-mile radius there are several public and private polo clubs that you can learn and watch to your heart’s desire. Polo is played almost every day of the week from dawn to dark. Wellington also has all levels of polo, youth and women’s-only tournaments, United States Polo Association tryouts, lessons, clinics and facilities for the amateur and pro.
With so much going on, it’s essential to stay fit for the season — and I do it the old fashioned way. On game days, the horses sense the tension so I usually start my day with an adrenalin-filled jog by chasing any number of horses in a large open pasture who will do anything to avoid a halter. They’re all wise to carrot and feedbag tricks, so there’s no getting around it. We then start the game of musical loading where I try to guess who’s getting along with whom and who had a bad breakup the night before and refuses to stand anywhere near each other on the trailer. This usually involves at least 50 climbs up the ramp and back down, sort of like a treadmill on full incline that never got plugged in.
Arriving at the field, I then move to my arm workout. Brushing each horse an endless amount of times in order for them to look game-ready does wonders to get the circulation going. Then it’s on to squats. I average around 100 before each game. That breaks down to 40 for polo wraps, 40 for tape and another 20 for front boots. The best part is that after the game I get to do it all over again in reverse!
Then it’s on to the shoulder and back exercise portion of the program, lifting saddles overhead from trailer saddle racks onto the horse and then cinching girths. It’s also a great balancing exercise with the saddle pads and bridles. This is all before my two-hour core body workout that’s about to take place.
The core workout — the game — is the best part. My trip last year as a player to the International Polo Club in Wellington was very memorable. I’d been asked to be the alternate for the 20-goal tournament. As if I wasn’t nervous enough, the game was being played on field one, the main field that’s surrounded by a huge grandstand, tents and lavish vehicles. Riding out onto a field at the International Polo Club with up to 10,000 polo fans watching is daunting before the game, but as the ball is thrown in and the game begins, everything else disappears.
The galloping hooves sound like the Kentucky Derby as we race toward the goal posts. As the game continues, the intensity erupts as eight players battle for the line of the ball. It seems to get more intricate as the game progresses. Trying to not cross the imaginary double white line that the ball creates every time it’s hit, trapped or kicked by the horse is like to trying to cross an eight-lane highway on foot. One false move and you can cause a penalty and give your opponents a chance to score a goal.
During the game we have two umpires that ride on the field alongside us, and a third man who sits in the grandstands or a location that’s centered to the field, and who has the final say. The modern-day drone camera flies overhead and follows our every move on the field to help in the many technical rules that the umpires might not see. The sidelines are also ringed with cameras to provide instant replay if needed and for broadcast on TV.
I still compete in several equestrian disciplines, but polo is called the Sport of Kings, and is aptly named. You’re never too old or too young to play. In no other sport can men and women, young and professional, all compete at an equal world-class international level.
As a female athlete, it’s difficult to be recognized in a male-dominated sport but thanks to polo, a whole new world has evolved — which leads me to a saying I like: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” — George Eliot