Monday, 5 November 2012

The Art & Etiquette of Polo

The polo season is drawing to a close and it's time for Argentina to welcome the be-jodhpured and bejeweled members of the polo elite, for their final three tournaments of the season: the Tortugas Open, Hurlingham Open and theArgentine Open.
For those of you reading this in a Palermo coffee house, waiting for the Buenos Aires rain (currently delaying the Tortugas semifinal) to cease: congratulations! You can be considered a Polo Insider. But for those scarred into avoiding equine sports by reading Black Beauty as a child: it's time to redress those issues - you've been missing out on far too much field-side fun.
So here is the simplest of guides to ride you into The Sport of Kings.
A Bit of Background
From its roots 2500 years ago - when it was developed as a cavalry training exercise by the Persian Moguls - to today's beautiful game, polo hasn't changed a great deal over the centuries. The Brits took note of it in the 1850s when tea-planters saw it played on the Burmese-Indian border, and quickly established the world's first polo club. By 1862 it was enjoyed by the finest of the upper echelons of British society, before spreading to the American social elite.
It's now played in 77 countries - most popularly in England, the US and Argentina - and remains a sport associated with the wealthy and the terribly aristocratic. It's also a favourite amongst groups of giggling 20-something girls, for whom the sight of a short man on a large horse is almost too much to bear.
The Polo Match by Francisco Miralles Y Gallup
Hockey on Horseback: the Basics
• Each game is divided into between four and six 7.5 minute chukkers, with a 4 minute break between each one.
• The aim of the game is to hit the small ball into the goal at the end of the field (sound familiar?)
• To avoid confusion (especially after a few too many champagne raspberries) remember that after each goal is scored, teams change their direction of play. Don't worry, you haven't changed where you're standing.
Outdoor teams have 4 players, creatively named 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Arena teams have 3 players, and surprisingly, these are named 1, 2 and 3:
Number 1: The team's offensive player
Number 2: The teams's more experienced player, plays both offensive and defensive
Number 3: The team's most experienced player, as well as Field Captain (delegates the ball)
Number 4: The team's defensive player
And FYI: there is no goalkeeper. Each player covers their matching number from the opposing team, trying to stop him from scoring.
The Foul System
This system is complex so if you're only really going for the caviar (and let's face it, most of us are) then this is all your cheat sheet should need:
As soon as the crowd becomes either tense/angry/guttural, immediately imitate their offended expressions, shake your head and quietly mutter something about "the line of the ball" . That should do it.
Partaking in a little stomping
The Divot Stomp
Kings and Queens have been doing this for centuries and now you can too! If you've ever watched Pretty Woman you will know what this is, and if you haven't watched Pretty Woman a). you should, and b). the divot stomp is when spectators wander onto the field at half time and replace the bits of grass that the ponies have removed with their heels, thereby smoothing the field ready for part 2.
The Look
As a spectator, dressing to impress is essential - especially if you're heading to a match on British soil.
• If you've been invited into a private English enclosure to indulge in a leisurely liquid luncheon, you'll want to err on the smarter side of smart-casual.
• Steer clear of large hats though ladies - this isn't Ascot and those are poniesnot horses. Leave the stilettos at home too; sinking into and being physically lifted out of the field after divot stomping is not a good way to start conversations with attractive jockeys. A nice pair of smart flats will spare your dignity.
• Gentlemen should not shy away from pinks and lemons when choosing their chinos - these being very much de rigueur. And as surprising as it may sound, Polo Ralph Lauren sells the perfect range of clothing for such an occasion.
Kate Middleton showing them how it's done
The Lingo
It's no good looking the part if you fail to sound it. Here are a few sound-bites for you to drop into conversation, allowing you to avoid awkward silences and ingratiate yourself with the master spectator:
• "What a shame the Novillo Astrada brothers have split. I always liked watching Ignacio and Alejandro together."
• "La Dolfina is a 40 goal dream team. This year's Triple Crown championship certainly threw the idea of their so called 'Cambiaso dependence' out the window!"
• "I'm so pleased Tortugas has finally been rescheduled. The yacht's arriving in Punta on the 19th and I didn't want to miss it."
• To be directed at the field when other spectators seem frustrated: "Take the man, not the ball!"
And finally,
If you are taking a picnic to watch the game, make sure not to set up camp too close to the field. Balls and ponies have been known to stray, and the last thing one needs is a hoof in one's hummus.

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