By Kerstie Allen
High-goal polo season is upon us and all the beautiful ponies have arrived. The finest and most prestigious polo season in the United States is underway at the International Polo Club in Wellington, Florida. All the glamour of Palm Beach combined with the perfect weather and the coming together of all the best polo players from around the globe makes for a pretty amazing experience.
If it’s anything like last year, words can’t describe how excited I am to be able to experience this one more time. I’m also excited to reunite with all my different polo families again and catch up with how everyone’s game, ponies and life in general have been going.
Last year I was lucky enough to play in the 20- and 26-goal polo tournaments among the best players in the world. Polo is unlike any other equestrian event. Each high goal game has approximately 100 horses at each game, including playing, spare and umpire ponies. This involves a team of people and equipment like a traveling circus. Each team is assigned a corner of the field where they set up a team tent somewhat like a pit at a NASCAR race. We usually have a team manager, several grooms to tack and untack the horses, spare horse holders that stand at each end of the field enabling us to change mounts and replace broken mallets during the game, and horse walkers to warm up and cool the ponies during the game. Friends, family, fitness trainers, vets and farriers also stay close to assist in the many needs.
Some teams have traveled from all parts of the world together, while other teams come together just for the winter season. Only in polo can you truly maximize your equestrian talents in one game. Here we aren’t limited by the ability of our single equine mount, but we have the freedom to change, double and ride as many horses as we feel necessary in a single game.
High goal polo in America consists of six seven-minute chukkers (similar to quarters in a football game). At the end of each chukker, we’re given time to change mounts, adjust equipment and grab a quick drink of water, then right back to the next chukker. In less than a second, we literally fly from horseback to horseback never touching the ground and have to adjust to our new steeds. As you all know, no two horses are alike; each one has its own unique style, gait, ability and quirks. There have been many games I’ve played in where I’ve ridden a horse for the first time ever and had to go out and play against the best in the world riding horses they know like the back of their hand. Call me odd but that’s half the fun of it!
Polo mallet shafts are made of a special kind of cane called manau, and the heads are made from wood cut from a tipa tree, which is found only in northern Argentina and parts of Brazil and Paraguay. They come in different lengths to help compensate for different horses’ sizes. In spite of that, it still takes a second or two to adjust. The ball is only 3 inches or so and the mallet head is only an inch and a half wide, so running at a full gallop and hitting this little bouncing ball is challenging to say the least.
Polo ponies love the sport as much as we do. They read the plays, follow the ball and pin their ears ready to go to battle for you. The good ones will take you to goal and can make you a star. Polo ponies can be any breed and being pretty or fancy isn’t a factor like it is in most show rings. Shaved manes and trimmed tails make for a warhorse appearance. The bulk of all polo ponies aren’t even registered, as they’re commonly a mix breed of Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse and the Argentine Criollo.
Sundays are my favorite day of the week for more reasons than just being able to play in the stadium on the main polo field. It also means that the following day is Monday, the “equestrian day of rest.” After a long week of scheduled games, practices and endless hours of preparation, there is one more endless chukker to be played in the pasture. As I turn my team of ponies loose, they run and play like they’re on the polo field, galloping, riding each other off as they spin and compete as if it’s the U.S. or Argentine Open playoffs. I could sit and watch them play for hours. Dripping in halters instead of diamonds, I’m glad God created the horse.
And speaking of diamonds … whoever said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend never owned a horse.
About the writer: Kerstie Allen is a native of Melbourne, Australia. Her passion for horses has taken her on a worldwide adventure exploring and mastering nearly every discipline in the equestrian world and opening doors of opportunity for women everywhere. Follow Kerstie’s adventures at: Twitter: @kerstiea; Facebook fan page: kerstie allen; and Instagram: allenkerstie.