Polo players are fond of saying the only ways to get out of the sport are go broke or die. It's not an alluring sentiment to the vast majority of the population, who can't quite afford six ponies, a couple of Land Rovers and an estancia. And as someone from a northern industrial UK town, I'm as likely to be found playing a chukka as asking Jeeves to give the Bentley a good scrub, but here in Argentina - for one time only - polo is accessible. For US$200 I could enjoy a private class, an asado lunch and a chukka or two before seeing how the professionals do it.
With my horse experience limited to a donkey dash at school fete, hopes weren't particularly high that I would be bullying off in November's Argentinian Open, but with our helpful host Estani of El Rincon de Polo my wife and I certainly had a great laugh, although mainly at my expense.
Arriving at the polo mecca of Opendoor, 40km from BA, the day starts with a coffee and a history lesson of the world's oldest team sport. In short: 6BC Persians invent game, it spreads to India where posh British blokes with 'taches formalise it and take it around the world. It arrives in Argentina in the mid 19th Century where gauchos already play a similar, if not slightly darker, game called pato (duck). And yes, a (briefly) live duck was used. It meant Argentinians took to the English game like, well, the proverbial duck. Today they dominate polo, winning every international tournament since 1949 and of the ten players in the world with a perfect ten handicap, all are from Argentina.
Deciding it was time to win the crown back for the British, I confidently hopped on a 'pony' ready to master the Game of Kings. I don't know if you've ever tried to hit an 8cm round ball with the end of a 1.3 metre mallet atop a galloping horse, but believe me a 'cinch' it is not. (Sylvester Stallone described polo as playing golf in an earthquake). But with some unfailingly patient instruction from expert Estani, I narrowed my chances of hitting the ball to, oh, at least one in 20.
After stopping to watch a professional game and discussing tactics over an asado we headed back to the ranch for our first chukka. Now sporting the full polo regalia,I at least looked like a polo player and let's face it, that's what it's all about.
Playing second fiddle to a nine year old groom called Cholito, doesn't do wonders for the confidence. But how can charging around the field on a horse, barging into the opposition and swinging a big mallet not be fun?Finally Cholito lines up the ball in front of the goal, I gallop (ok, trot) up to the ball, lean over, and strike the ball through the posts. GOOOOOLLLAZZZOOO!
The decision was made there and then: if I win the lottery, I’m taking this up full time.
El Rincon de Polo Club and School offers a day of polo for US$200 including transport and lunch www.elrincondelpolo.com
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