66 Magazine Issue 4 Summer 2018 - Page 89

Yes, the headline’s a low-hanging pun. But actually, when you weigh up the long hours and logistics involved, the similarities between a motor racing team and a polo team are quite striking. Endless travel, huge days and equally large expenses. Heartbreak, frustration, sweat and glory: it’s all there, both in and on the paddock. The more whimsical will suggest machines have minds of their own; performing perfectly in one race, breaking down inexplicably in the next. Now map that adage across to polo where the ‘machines’ really do have minds of their own. The trick for grooms and riders alike is to get to know what makes these rather less- predictable machines tick. The skill of the polo player is akin to that of the racing driver too. There’s the speed, the quick turns, the necessity to be doing 12 things at once; riders have to hold two sets of reins in their left hand and the polo mallet in their right (this is not a southpaw-friendly sport). They have to gee-up their steeds from near-standstill to 50km/h at the drop of a hat and then turn on a dime in order to follow play. In pursuit of the ball, players will bring their horses careening alongside each other to try and gain the advantage for the next strike with the mallet; immovable and unstoppable muscle colliding at pace. Clashing ponies, clashing riders, sticks flying. It’s dramatic to say the least. Then there’s the mental challenge; the strategy, the knowing which horse to play in which part of the game (each period of play is known as a ‘chukka’), whether they’re going to have to switch horse’s mid-chukka – done in a hurry and often without the player’s feet touching the ground. You’ll also be relieved to hear that the polo pitch is nearly 300m long and 200m wide; when there are eight horses and riders moving at pace in pursuit of a ball that spends an unexpected amount of time airborne, you’d be glad of the six rugby fields’ worth of manoeuvring room too. The rugger reference is apt; polo has been referred to as essentially like “rugby on horseback” by more than a few observers over the years. And then there’s the sound. No, not the shrill, ear-splitting shriek of internal combustion revving at the limit. But something deeper and more primal; whether they’re coming towards you or moving away, the sound of performance-bred horses galloping at speed is a thunderous sensation as much felt in the chest as heard. It’s intimidating and awe-inspiring all at once. Pass the champagne, I think I need a sit-down. On Saturday, February 23rd, 2019, the crowds will gather at the scenic Auckland Polo Club grounds in the lush hills of Clevedon for the Land Rover NZ Polo Open. 66 MagAzine AUTUMN 2018 39