Do you miss playing polo, but there is no polo where you live and you can only play abroad? I understand your situation perfectly. In Sotogrande, in the south of Spain (where I live), there are no playing fields for players like me. You can say, “But that is the mecca of European polo!” I say: Wrong!
Yes, we have three big polo clubs here, but the season is extremely short and the level of polo is too demanding, serious, and professional. And that is no fun for me! Besides, the expenses for polo here, compared with other parts of the world, are just beyond my understanding.
The only good thing that we have here is a fantastic new private Polo school which is the home for me and my horses.
The school is open from March to October. I am currently a zero goal player and very much enjoy being with people from the school, having fun, playing friendly chukkers, and eating barbecues at weekends.
However, for the tournaments, I prefer to travel and play in different places like Madrid, Zurich, Ibiza, Rome, Sevilla, and so on.
Anyway, between October and March, we have no polo in Sotogrande, which is why I have created my own program on how to stay fit and be ready for the summer season. Have a look and maybe it can help you, too.
1. Don’t stop riding. Practice any horse riding sport you like. Four months ago, I started jumping from 0cm. Now, I can jump 1m obstacles. It really improves your riding skills and keeps you fit, and you will not endure the muscle pain that you would normally have after a long absence.
A show jumper must have the scope and courage to jump fences as well as the athletic ability to handle the sharp turns and bursts of speed necessary to navigate the most difficult courses.
Show jumping is the only sport where the two compete together—the horse and the rider, no partners, no team. The rider is not just any fellow sitting on the horse; he is more than a pilot. On the course, the eye of the rider and his ability to make quick decisions are as important as the skill of the horse, his physical aptitude, his carefulness, and so on. Does it sound familiar to polo? Correct! It will really help you to understand your Polo horse better, take fast decisions, and stay calm during the chukkers! Besides, show jumping is four times cheaper than polo.
2. Practice Tennis Polo. Just take a hand mallet and a couple of tennis balls and hit the ball against the wall. That’s it! This way, you will improve your coordination and control over the ball. Hand-eye coordination is the key to this exercise. Practice with your left hand as it offers more challenge. Play with your kids—they’ll love it—and be surprised at how talented they can be. It took me about two weeks to start hitting the ball correctly and to tell you the truth, I could not even imagine that this simple exercise would be so difficult to complete.
3. Work on your balance. The best way to do it is to practice sports like skateboarding or surfing. Is it too difficult for you? No worries, I have found the alternative—meet the Body Balance board! Whether you are just looking to feel more sure-footed in your daily routine, rehabbing from an injury, or looking to intensify your existing workout by engaging more muscles during common exercises, this great multi-purpose tool will produce results fast!
I found this fantastic piece of equipment in Tarifa—the mecca for kite-surfers. You can put it in your room or kitchen and train your balance with a cup of tea in your hand. I was told that this board helps a lot, so I decided to adapt it for Polo. I can stay on the board for a long time, moving the weight of my body left and right, leaning the knees, and even jumping! It’s challenging but fun! The market price for a good quality board to a standard design starts from 150 euros.
4. Try grip-strengthening exercises. Do you have weak fingers and need to strengthen them to hold the mallet that requires flexibility? Do you want to have a better grip? How about hooking the pro? Do you need more power to do that? The right exercises can help improve flexibility, suppleness, and strength of the joints so you can perform everything from basic activities of daily living to higher level physical activities.
For grip-strengthening, hold a soft ball in your palm and squeeze it hard for five seconds before releasing your grip. Work your way up to 10 to 15 repetitions, performed two to three times weekly. It is important to give yourself two days’ rest between grip-strengthening sessions. You can also purchase a special strength-training item such as Fat Gripz.
5. Use Segway to improve the contact with and control of the ball. Segway requires more coordination and balance especially when learning and offers you the self-balancing ease of use. It can help improve balance and coordination, too.
Play with friends and kids—it’s a lot of fun! We even organize competitions over the weekend. Play on full speed, practice turns, stops, neck shot, and even ride off! The price of a Segway is 190 euros, the price of playing a chukker in Santa Maria Polo Club in Sotogrande. Don’t hesitate, buy a Segway and enjoy it!
Just take polo easy. In the beginning, I took polo too seriously—training myself like crazy, endlessly buying and selling horses, and competing non-stop against the professional polo players of Sotogrande. That was so stupid. I admire professional players—they are really great. But I realized that it’s not my way. I play for fun. I’ll never be a professional player and I do not want to compete with men because I am primarily a woman and a mother. And I am proud of it. As soon as I realized this, my polo improved tenfold.
Unless you are a professional player or earning a living through it, do not take it too seriously. And you will see how relaxed you will be, playing better and having fun instead of suffering from stress.
Hope my experience helps you and look forward to seeing you on the fields with a smile on your face and adrenaline surging through your body!