As the bell tolled at the end of the final match of 2011, the 2012 season seemed a very long way off. Those with any sense jumped on a plane and headed for Argentina, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa to ply their trade, whilst the rest of us settled in for the English winter.
Of course the new year has arrived at warp speed and it is amazing to think that in just seven weeks, the ponies will be back in to work to prepare for the 2012 season. Where did all that time go and more importantly have my polo boots really been in my car boot since mid September??! The ponies are now enjoying the final part of their winter holiday and the rotund furry creatures that currently gorging themselves on hay and grass are a far cry from the finely honed equine athletes we will see on the field at the end of April!
For those left in the UK suffering from Polo withdrawl, Arena Polo provides a great fix. Played three-a-side from October to March in purpose built all weather arenas measuring approx 80m x 40m, its popularity rocketed throughout the 1990s and proved to be a popular and spectator friendly version of the sport, even gaining TV coverage. The game continues to provide a fun and cost effective way to get involved with the sport as memberships and lessons are typically cheaper than for the outdoor game. There are plenty of clubs nationwide who offer lessons, chukkas and tournaments throughout the winter and there is something going on every weekend throughout the winter, from Low goal club tournaments up to International level. The pinnacle of UK Arena Polo is the Gaucho Polo at the 02 in London, where top international players battle it out in front of a crowd of 8,000.
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In Europe, snow polo is also played at a few of the major resorts. The World Cup of Polo on Snow, played on the frozen lake at St Moritz is arguably the highlight of the European winter polo season and sees the best snow polo (and perhaps partying!) of the season. The tournament is Royal Ascot, Wimbledon, Cowes Week and Badminton rolled in to one! It is now in its 29th year and continues to attract the world’s top players, as well as Europe’s jet set sporting more fur than you can shake a rather large stick at. If Polo isn’t your bag then there is plenty more to keep you amused. Horse racing on the lake as well as some of Europe’s finest skiing are on the menu, and for those who are not faint of heart (or indeed funds) the opportunity to go down the Cresta run. Broken bones and Injury rates are huge annually but this doesn’t seem to deter hundreds of plucky visitors, high on Chanel number 5 fumes and Cristal from having a go.
Back in the UK this season will be one to savour. Once again the world’s top players will flock to our shores to play in the High Goal Queens Cup at Guards and The Veuve Cliquot Gold Cup at Cowdray– the tournament they all want to win. Home grown talent is healthy- the England team containing Luke and Mark Tomlinson, Nacho Gonzalez and James Beim scored memorable victories against New Zealand and Brazil last season and with new management in place the national team has never looked stronger.
In the meantime I’ll get back to my open fire, a generous whisky mac and dream about green fields, hot sun and good polo……!
Dates for the diary – the polo to see this season in 2012
St Regis International, Cowdray Park Polo Club, W. Sussex , 19th May 2012
Beaufort International Polo Day, Beaufort Polo Club, Gloucestershire, 16th June 2012
Queens Cup Final, Guards Polo Club, Berkshire, 17th June 2012
Veuve Cliquot Gold Cup Final, Cowdray park Polo Club, W. Sussex, 15th July 2012
HPA International Day, Guards Polo Club, Berkshire , 22nd July 2012