Last Saturday some friends and I sallied forth with a ‘Tally Ho!’ in the direction of Windsor to get a taste of the horsey sport of polo.
Now, none of us knew anything about polo, other than what we had picked up from watching ‘Pretty Woman’, but a quick Google and a decision to clap and cheer when it looked like a goal had been scored seemed to fare us well enough.
The match took place at Guard’s Polo Club, set in Windsor Great Park. After an age of driving through the park’s luscious fields, we finally parked up and set off to explore. We settled into the grandstand and watched the end of a match between two rival polo clubs. Horses hurtled past at ridiculous speeds in hot pursuit of the ball, while the riders swung madly with their mallets in order to score that coveted point.
Once the match was finished, there was a leisurely two-and-a-half hour ‘luncheon’ break, so we sauntered off to a grassy spot and sat down for our lunch. We soon realised that we had been seriously out-picnicked.
While we munched on sandwiches on a blanket, those around us put our efforts to shame. Up went gazebos, out came fold-away tables (with table cloths, of course), and on went the lead-crystal glasses and the finest cutlery. One group even dished out a portable hob and warmed something through in a saucepan.
After vowing to make a better effort next time, we set off to meander around the park and the various stalls. The day was now HOT HOT HOT, and I had to smear suncream on every patch of exposed skin (I still got burnt).
Stalls matched the clientele, with one stall selling fancy cigars at 70 quid a pop. Apparently they were handmade by being rolled between’ sweaty Cuban thighs’…
After having a look at the polo ponies resting in the shade, we headed back to the main arena and I refreshed myself with some Pimm’s. Pimm’s always taste better outdoors in the beating sun, so the surroundings were perfectly suited to drinking a glass (or two…)
Finally it was time for the big event – England vs Argentina. We took to the grandstand and watched the bear-hatted band parade past, accompanied by some young polo players and the England and Argentina teams.
When the match finally got going, the level was way beyond what we had seen earlier in the day. Horses galloped flat-out across the playing field, but then magically stopped, spun round, and raced in the other direction. The players were also in another league – their mallets whizzed through the air and hit the ball with precision every time.
England started off with one goal as a handicap to Argentina, but that didn’t stop the Argentinean’s. Their players were all over the field and seemed to find a space to pass in even the tightest scrunches. Pretty soon, they were in the lead.
After three ‘chukkas’, it was time for a half-time break. This is the fun bit for the audience. As those of you who have watched Pretty Woman will know, this is when the ‘divoting’ takes place. The spectators get out of their seats, march onto the playing field, and then use their shoes to push soil that has been hacked out by hooves or mallets back into place. It’s basically a free method of getting the field prepared for play.
After a merry few minutes of divoting, I looked up and noticed Prince Charles standing right next to me, flanked by a few heavies. A crowd amassed around him and sadly I couldn’t grab a photo, although he did pose for a few ‘selfies’ with some persuasive spectators.
After my brush with royalty, it was time to watch the conclusion of the match. Argentina continued to thrash us, bashing the ball through the goal time and time again. Finally, the whistle went and Argentina was declared the winner.
And so concluded my first polo match. After a full day of sun, eating, drinking and hobnobbing with the royal family, it was definitely time for home and bed.