Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Saturday: It hits

Polo grooming is a bit like an abusive relationship. You get all the bruising, sweating and aching, swearing that it'll be the last time you suffer through it. Next thing you know, you're back on the proverbial horse as if none of it ever happened.

See even though I was having the worst day of my short polo grooming career, I was stubborn about not wanting to quit. My work history at home has consisted of me finding something I love, doing it for free, before gradually getting disillusioned and losing interest. Time and time again the going gets tough, so I get going. Granted, a lot of it's to do with the non-payment. If you're working for free, you expect something in return. I've stuck this job out so far because in return for my hard work, I get free accommodation, food and a lovely family to live with. My bank account has remained practically untouched since January. Ultimately, it means I can travel for longer and experience things I otherwise wouldn't. It's just slowly, the hours have upped, the time off has heavily depleted. It was time to weigh up what I wanted.

I woke up on Saturday feeling resigned. I didn't want to quit, but I didn't want to spend my time away being miserable and knackered. There were two games to get through before we could pack up and head home. Two games that Matty was playing in now too, so I'd be doing everything myself. It was a decider in more ways than one.

The routine begins. Saddles first, followed by three bridles, then the plaited tail gets folded up and taped in place, top, middle and bottom. Girths are tightened and I walk the first pony out to the Polo Player. The game horn sounds.

First horse plays half a chukka, comes back. The next goes out.

Then, panic.

The pace switches. Suddenly, you're throwing tack off the first horse onto the truck, unravelling bandages and ripping the tail free of the tape. Headcollar on. Taking the heavily breathing, sweating horse, it's veins visible through the drenched fur, and running with it towards the nearest hose. Cold water sprays and mud splatters up your legs, the horse throws its head in the air, spins in circles, unable to stand still. Now soaked, you run it back to the horsebox, fingers fumbling with the rope as you tie it up. Three minutes gone. The second horse is already back. The third is out. Your breathing is going mental. Fuck, shit, bollocks where is the sodding...ah, there. Ok. ARGH. Remember the second horse is going out again in the fifth chukka. Right. Keep it's bandages on and tail up. The fourth and fifth horse needs saddles on. Wash the third. Tack up the first again.

Then... just like that, adrenaline hits.

The pace is the same, but you've got everything under control. You're enjoying yourself. It's calm all of a sudden. You're smiling, even. One by one, the horses go out and you're experiencing a rush of happiness. Quit? This? No, no. I'm grooming for a whole game on my own for the first time. Think how much better I'll be next week! Why would I give up now?

Twenty minutes later, the Polo Player appears in his car. My legs are streaked with brown watermarks, my hat shields the sun from half a grubby face. There's black under my nails and my white t-shirt is stained with horse sweat, leather and dust. There's blood, not mine, on my arm.

He hands me a bottle of Victoria Bitter and a packet of crisps and says 'JoJo, you look like a polo groom'.

Adrenaline makes my decision for me. I'll give it another couple of weeks.

I'm easily won.


The Unbearable Banishment said...

Polo, like yacht racing, isn’t exactly a sport that I can relate to, get behind and support, but I *do* find these posts and peek into that world to be fascinating. I like the whole “dirty girl” imagery. It’s contrary to the scrubbed tarts I see preening about Manhattan.

If you’re doing everything yourself, this might be a good time to hit them up for a raise.

Grump said...

Not to put too big a downer on your lovely post. But I would be looking into the work cover issues that must be of concern. If anything was to happen to you while you are working for the polo guy, and in Australia that can include travel to and from work, you will need to know that you would be looked after.
We have lots of people who come to Aus and work illegally, meaning they have very little redress if a problem arises. Even so they have been successful on occaision, taking the employer to court.
I was surprised to read in your last post that you are not paid, as in a wage, but you are expected to get up and work when asked.
Take care and be aware of your rights.
Woof x

AFC 30K said...

I'm glad you're enjoying it again; it almost felt like I was there...

オテモヤン said...


Elaine said...

Well it sounds like your polo man is certainly getting his money's worth out of you! But like you say...what an experience. This kind of thing doesn't come along very often, and you'll cherish these memories forever, even if right now you may be bashing your head against the wall and wondering what the hell you're doing. You'll know when the right time is to turn your back on it, and when you do, you can walk away smiling, knowing you've been a part of something really ammazing.

Ellie said...

FANTASTIC! You had my heart pounding with the stress. Continue to enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

Wages? Rights? Miss the point.

Don't get me wrong, we should all have them in everyday jobs, but this is something else, this is experience, that you've chosen and can walk out of whenever you like. Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Being that you're doing a travelling thing I think I'd only continue doing it if the ratio of 5 star opulence and treats to 16 hour daily slogs was better.

Oh, and the Japanese comment is just a list of rude sexual terms. I expect your search hits from Japan will increase any time soon.

Anonymous said...

This is the kind of thing that you'll look back at forever and cherish the experience.

(The polo grooming rather than the obscure Japanese sex terms that is).

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

Unbearable - Ah, I'll get a little bonus when I leave. I'm glad you're learning a little about this other sporting's definitely all new to me, too!

Grump - In all honesty, all that's a world away from what the point is of me being here. Workers rights and all that...the point is, I can leave when I want. I've got travel insurance to cover any bumps and bruises. It's really a very casual thing that despite the hard work, I wouldn't be doing if I didn't ultimately enjoy. Plus, it's only working illegally if I'm getting paid. Which I'm not. On a holiday visa, I'm allowed to work for my keep and food. It's all totally above board and safe.

AFC - Glad my writing can get you to Australia even if a bank balance can't hehe :)

Elaine - I know that part of it is me just getting used to hard work. And I do have such a laugh, meeting some great people and working with some cool blokes. It's all good. You're right that I'll look back on it fondly, I already look back on last weekend fondly! Ha!

Ellie - Thanks! I will...

Anon - Spot on. There's no obligation keeping me here, I can up and leave like many more backpackers before me probably have. This is the best experience I've had in Australia so far.

Not twitter - Well, this weekend just gone was all about the five star accommodation again, so looks like I'm covered for another week on that front ;) And thanks for the comment translation. Those Japanese are a crazy old bunch.

Perp - Daaaamn right my friend. The sex links might be pretty enlightening too, you know. I'll leave it up. Someone have a click and let me know.

Grump said...

I had hoped I could just leave your last comment and move on, but find I need to add a couple of things.
I'm sure you are miles away from Work cover issues. And performing unpaid work, in exchange for board and food, could be all above board and kosha.
I sell hardware to builders of commercial properties who have no idea of their legal obligations when it comes to health and safety, fire regulations, etc. with regard to the hardware they are fitting.
Equally, I doubt your travel insurance would cover you for an accident incurred while working/driving/riding in the polo man's employ.
I'm sure you will look back on this great experience with lots of great memories, I hope you are fully covered if there are god forbid any mishaps.


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