Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Horses, sweat and polo

I got up at 5:30am on Friday morning to a darkening sky. Rumbles and occasional flashes of white light were accompanied by the sort of humidity which means just one thing. That you, my dear, better swap jeans for shorts, unleash your Kag in a Bag, hop on the quad bike and prepare to get very, very muddy. Two hours later, the horses loaded onto the truck, rain hammering down; we set off on the five hour drive to Melbourne with no idea whether the game would even be on or not once we got there.

Luckily, the rain in Melbourne had come and gone. As soon as we arrived, we unpacked animals and equipment and got to work. I was about to get my first real taste of what being a polo groom is all about. I can exclusively reveal that it's mainly flapping around horses in a field in manner of rabbit on vast amounts of speed.

It goes a bit like this: bandage forty four legs, plait and tape up 11 tails, put on and adjust the first five saddles and bridles. Wipe over all leather, checking and re-checking that everything's done up tight. Send that horse to the pony lines to play. Get the next one ready. After the first chukka (which is seven minutes of game play – or less if they’re doing half chukkas. There are usually 6 chukkas in a match), the first horse comes off. The Polo Player jumps – literally – from that pony onto the next one. At this point, you have about one minute to remove all bandages, tack, tape, and hose the sweating, blowing, adrenaline pumped horse down from head to tail. Then you've got another few minutes to put everything onto another horse further down the line, and re-check the one which is going on next. Repeat for the length of the game, for however many horses your player is using. Add in some last minute changes depending on how each horse is performing on the field, throw in 30-something degree heat et voila! J'suis sweaty-betty.

Not that I thought I'd be hanging around watching polo and sipping champagne all day in this job, but it's certainly more complicated and a lot harder than I expected. It's made all the more stressful by the knowledge that a horse and player’s safety is largely down to you and your attention to detail before the horse even reaches the field. So, ya know, no pressure or anything.

It was nearly an hour after the game had finished; the saddles were neatly stacked away, the ponies were fed, watered and standing in their stalls which were to be their bed for the weekend. I’d begun the long process of re-rolling all the leg bandages we'd used when the Polo Player appeared. It was at that point I realised something important had slipped my mind.

“Oh! Did we win?”

“Yeah! By two goals. Thanks for your hard work, you did well. Leave those bandages for now – it's beer time.”

Knackered, still in soggy Converse, mud splattered jeans and a sweat-dried top; a cold Stella in a field has never tasted so good.

Same again next weekend, please.


Anonymous said...

I can see exactly how TGD would have struggled with this ;)

Sounds like you are having great fun. How long does the polo season last?

AFC 30K said...

Sounds very different from my experience watching polo from a shady tent with chilled champaigne and some corperate catering in a filed in deepest darkest Surrey...

Elaine said...

Sounds amazing....but hard work. What an experience!

Anonymous said...

I'm not a horsey person but that does sound brilliant!

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Jesus Christ! I'm exhausted from reading this post! Please excuse me but I need a bit of a nap.

Those polo player sound like a bunch of manly, tough, sons-of-bitches. Those are the same kind of guys who use to take my lunch money away when I was in junior high school.

Brennig said...

Sounds like a most excellent day. So when you get back you can come and groom for me at a One Day Event? Just Tom to look after? That's a 'yes', isn't it? :-)

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

perp - My thoughts exactly. It's stressful enough without someone even slower than me helping out! The Polo Player plays all over the world, all year round. I think (but could be wrong) that it's largely weather / country dependent.

AFC - Haha! Behind every game of polo are several knackered grooms running around like blue-arsed flies.

Elaine - it is hard work. But rewarding once it's all over.

blueskies - It's definitely an experience!

Unbearable - Yep, it's a pretty male, testosterone filled environment. There are women players though who go on teams with the blokes. The grooms are mostly blonde, either British or scandinavian though...go figure.

Brennig - As long as I can shave his mane and the top of his tail to make life easier, of course ;)


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