|By Oneal Hector D’Cunha [ Published Date: April 21, 2012 ]|
With the weather still being cooler in the UAE, we decided to spend the weekend outdoors.
Incidentally the fourth weekend of March 2012 seems to have been dedicated to the horses with the Dubai world cup, a Polo match at the Dubai Polo Club and the President's Cup at the Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club which is halfway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi and several other smaller events too.
Given the proximity to Abu Dhabi we chose the Presidents cup and here is my attempt to demystify the game. Polo is a game that is called the ‘sport of the kings’ and often perceived as alien to the region. Polo was first played extensively by the Persians around 5th century BC.
Several other variants of the games with horses are also still being played across the region. Polo was not always a royal sport as even ordinary people played this sport. The only eligibility was that a player must have a horse and must be a good rider too.
The game then spread over from Persia to various countries and the name seems to have come from a Tibetan word 'pulu' which means ball. The current form of international Polo was formalized in the Indian state of Manipur by the British army officers in 1834.
In fact the game was being played for almost 20 centuries and the first polo club also was also established in India at Kolkata in 1862.
Polo has been quite popular with the Army, especially their cavalry divisions, which is but natural for them to enhance their core skills. Each game is played for about an hour, with 6 rounds called a chuckers that is a 7-minute game.
The team typically has 4 players on each side with a horse each and they play the game on a 300 X 160 yards field. The players use a long-handled mallet and the ball is made of either wood or plastic, often white in colour. There are variants such as the field polo, arena polo and country polo.
The horses' tails are braided and their manes roached to avoid it being entangled with the mallet. There are two referees whose horses' tails are not braided. The players do change horses often, whenever a horse is tired, though without getting off to the ground, to save time.
What was most striking was the sportsman like manner in which the players played the game and often I wondered if it is the animals amidst them make them put their suave nature, besides as one analyst puts it - 60% credit of the game goes to the horses.
Safety is considered of paramount importance and the same has also adopted rules for the safety of the rider and the horse. More than the teamwork between the players it is interesting to watch the teamwork between the horse and the player.
At times, we can even forget the rider and watch only the horses. The sudden take-offs, speed, sudden swerves and change of direction in pursuit of the ball puts both the players and the horses to test. Their stamina, manoeuvres, high-adrenaline action makes the spectators glued to the game.
There was something for everyone at the day-long event, with pony rides, bouncy castles, magic shows, horse art and face painting. People from all walks of life and strata were all at the Polo club to watch the game.
The commentator kept the spectators' interest alive through a rapid narrative on the happenings, even of those at the far end of the field, often not visible to all spectators, given the size of the Polo field. The military band in attendance added a touch of royalty to the event. The sponsors showered the visitors with entertainment and gifts to make the day's Polo, a mint on the whole.