I can scarcely believe that it has been a full year since I was rushed to A+E in an ambulance following a rather spectacular flying dismount from a rather bewildered polo pony. Although not the most dramatic of incidents, that one came later, this one had a far greater effect on me as it was the first time I wasn’t able to simply ‘get back on’ a few days later.
As an absolutely mental equestrian type, I did in fact ride a second horse following the fall- prior to admitting defeat (and severe pain) and I do think that was the only thing that kept me from giving up altogether, the fact I had in fact ‘gotten back on’. The fracture of the sacrum was what would ultimately keep me out of the saddle for 6 weeks, however the damage I obtained to my hip abductors and groin muscles was far more painful than the break itself.
Since my return to the saddle (you can read the story of 2016 at www.thefirstchukka.com) in January, it all seems to have clicked, after just one lesson with the wonderful Harriet Servaes at Carlton House Polo Club, I was unceremoniously shoved into chukkas. As my ‘nerves’ centred on amongst other things, turning at speed, being put into an environment where I had no other choice but to ‘keep up’ or be completely out of the game has been the absolute making of me.
The first few weeks were anything but pretty, adjusting to arena polo (grass will always be my favourite but I am coming round to the arena), getting to know the ponies and attempting to make contact with the ball at speed (still a work in progress), however over the last few weeks, things have truly been coming together.
I have been making an effort to lose weight and more importantly, get fit, and it has definitely had a positive effect on my polo. Core exercises plus walking approximately 5 miles per day have strengthened my seat, stamina and position which in turn has enabled me to be a lot more effective in my riding and my hitting. My half seat, although never horrific, now looks far less blancmange like!
Now we all have our favourites amongst polo ponies, even though we really shouldn’t! I instantly clicked with the first polo pony I took to chukkas with, a lovely gelding named Star. Despite being slightly sharp, and a bit of a wimpy gelding on occasions, we gelled. Of course, in polo you need to be able to ride anything you are given and so after a couple of further outings with Star, I hopped across to Mini Obi, an absolute revelation and a surprise in a small package!
Unlike with Star, Mini Obi and I took a little longer to click, in fact this last Thursday was the first time I felt that we truly gelled as one and clicked on the field, or should I say, in the arena. Her energy was very different to Star’s and you could definitely tell she was a mare! Having seen her ridden by a less experienced rider than me, I had certain expectations about her temperament. A bad idea in the equestrian world and she certainly showed me up when a combination of the fastest chukkas I had ever played, plus a new pony, caught up with me a little!
Despite her small stature, her acceleration was an absolute revelation! Even when I was riding like an idiot, she certainly tried her little heart out and definitely plays the game, even if this did lead to me overtaking and accidentally riding off my own team member on one occasion. A few ‘victory laps’ (aka circling to reduce speed and then get back into the game) soon followed.
Then I had the opportunity to ride Star again and to be honest, I jumped at it. Back on my ‘favourite’ I undertook a stick and ball session, and chukkas and although we again clicked instantly and the more familiar striding enabled me to make a breakthrough in my hitting, I began to miss Mini Obi’s power and acceleration.
Reunited with Mini Obi last Thursday, it felt like something had shifted. We seemed to finally be gelling as one and she played her little heart out, getting right into it in the ride offs and successfully seeing off a large TB gelding almost twice her size!