My name’s Helen and I play polo, but I’m no wanker
As Banjo Paterson noted - there’s something very Australian, in fact primordial, about lining up with your mates each mounted on half a tonne of horseflesh, sticks in hand, cantering forward to meet mounted opponents to battle over a hard ball.
This is how I spend every waking hour possible; playing polo. It’s an addiction - but I’m not a wanker. Au contraire.
On Fridays, I used to count down the hours to beer o’clock with work mates at the Crown hotel. Now I’m up at 4am to start work at 5am to leave at 2pm so I can drive an hour to the country for afternoon chukkas.
Yes, chukkas, the uninterrupted polo playing session that lasts about seven minutes each, played in quarters. Neither you or your horse (known traditionally as ‘ponies’) can last any longer.
I’m new to the sport. It is seven minutes of the most ab-crunching, fear-raising, thigh-busting balancing act you could attempt. Playing sport at high speed on a live animal. Go figure.
If TV commercials for abdominal shaping devices were realistic then late night Dentel ads would feature polo ponies. For the first time in two decades, post three children - I can see my abs. They actually look good - but I’m not a wanker.
I’ve discovered that hitting a ball at high speed from the back of a moving beast takes a fair amount of courage. As soon as you join the ranks of polo players, there’s instant camaraderie.
Whether you’re rich or poor…well there’s not many of them besides me…whatever your level of skill you are universally nodded at by the ‘real’ players. Getting the timing right, your swing, your horse’s movements, your seat right all at one moment in time makes the rest of the world and your problems disappear. Fast.
Courage is also needed to wear the obligatory white jeans. My Sass and Bides have got a workout - rubbed with horse snot, sweat and leather at high speed leaves odd stains in embarrassing places.
I’m now trying on long leather boots (hand made) - they hurt. I’m instructed to take the pain and stretch the leather and these $950 boots will be mine if I pay $350-cash to a dashing Argentinian who’ll also provide me and a polo helmet that resembles a pith hat plus a hand-made cane mallet, knee guard, eye protection and membership.
I’m not wealthy - I can’t afford to hire polo ponies each time I want to play. Then someone gives me a horse. Gives me a horse - my life long dream. Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
My horse now boards during the week at the Shangri-La of horse resorts, and if I play my cards right I might get a look in myself one day. 5-star stable accommodation with Mozart and Bell Birds playing. Baby Jesus’ manger had nothing on this place.
Welcome to the new age of horse training. Natural horsemanship, where the horse volunteers to be part of your activities. “Let the horse choose you” my instructor yells. “Don’t look at it!” Apparently showing your eyes to your horse reminds him of a lion. The rule is: look down, walk away, visualise him following you. Miraculously it works. I am not a lion.
Whatever you visualise the horse senses and makes it happen. When playing polo never, repeat, never visualise falling off. I made that error cantering about on the polo field just as I was leaning off my horse to take a shot. As soon as I thought I might fall off, the horse made it happen. Bam on my arse from a canter to the ground, nothing hurt, just embarrassed. From now on I visualise me winning everything. So far so good.
My polo friends buy me a gold necklace with a pony on it. Now to fit in all the saddles, swags, new clothes, hay and alcohol (an integral part of polo life) into my car I buy a four-wheel-drive. Not just any four wheel drive. A 3.4 litre twin cab Toyota Hilux ute with roll bar, bull bar, roo lights, dog chains and a cup holder in the rear tray. No one beeps you in a Toyota Hilux ute especially on Sydney’s north shore. But I’m not a wanker.
It’s a Saturday, the sunshine has a bite to it and I notice country lads and polo players turn up their collars to shade their necks. I do likewise and it works. I catch my reflection after my last chukka; fit, scruffy…some might say “windswept”, gold necklace glinting in the sunlight under my upturned collar as I load my polo mallet and gear into my four-wheel drive, while my horse visualises me returning to the North Shore. Lots of hugs with my polo mates till next time we play.
They are salt of the earth, gutsy, life-educated. It is soul rendering good fun to survive each encounter with them and their ponies. I climb up into my Hilux confident in the knowledge that I’m not a wanker - not at all.
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