Polo has taught me a lot over the years as playing any sport to a high level does. It has taught me good management, self-analysis, performing under pressure, people skills, sportsmanship, dedication and drive to name a few.
First of all, please give me an insight into your background. Where were you born, what type of upbringing did you have, and where were you educated?
I was born in England and had a wonderful upbringing. I was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and then went to The University of the West of England where I got a degree in English Literature.
When and how were you introduced to polo?
I was introduced to polo at the age of 6 through The Pony Club in England. My first team was for the VWH Pony Club, aged 6, with my brother Ben, Sam Farmer, and Satnam Dhillon.
Who originally inspired you to play?
My father played until his accident and I am not sure exactly how we all got in to it, but I think it was through a lady called Lisa who encouraged us all to play and then the pony club got us all hooked! Along the way I have been lucky enough to have a number of people who have inspired and influenced with playing polo.
Why polo: passionate of the horse or the sport?
To begin with, playing at a young age, it was the enjoyment of playing a sport with friends. I now love polo because of both the passion for the sport and the horse. The high-impact, adrenaline-fuelled, elusive and challenging nature of the sport makes it incredibly addictive and the horses become an obsession and passion and only add to the amazing allure of the game. I have only reached the level of polo that I have due to the horses I play. For me they are everything.
What does it feel like to be the best lady player in the world?
I am incredibly proud to have attained this, but for me I don’t really think about it too much. I just concentrate on my polo and what more I want to achieve from the sport.
Do you play in purely women tournaments or both female and male? If it is the latter, what do you prefer and why?
I play in both and I enjoy them for different reasons. I have grown up and played the most of my polo in the mixed tournaments and really love that. However, with the rise of women’s polo and the improvement to the game, I am taking great pleasure in playing that and watching the level of women’s polo improve and seeing the rise in numbers of women participating.
How many times a week do you train? How many horses do you change over when you are training?
My training has no real pattern and part of the joy of polo is that it is different every day. When I am in the middle of the season and training hard I will work most days on my fitness; either running, cycling, swimming, or doing Pilates. I will then also stick and ball or individually ride my horses when needed, depending on their playing schedule and how they are going. I can ride anything from 2 horses a day to up to 8 or 10 depending on what is needed.
Give me an example of a typical training day.
In New Zeland we play chukkas most days when we are not playing tournaments and that would be about 6 chukkas in the afternoon. I will often train in the morning before we play, either at the gym or at home.
How many ponies do you own? Where are they?
I have between 6 and 10 ponies in England which include a couple of young ones and then my husband JP and I have about 40 in New Zealand and they range in age from foals to 15 years old.
Who are your sponsors? Who supports you?
I have no sponsors, but if anyone is interested then please do get in touch!!
In which country do you play mostly?
I play equally between England and New Zealand.
How many tournaments do you play every year and what is your favourite one and why?
I am not really sure, but I guess about 40 tournaments a year. My favourites are the Gerald Balding at Cirencester Park Polo Club, an 8 goal tournament in England, and the NZ Open and the Savill Cup in NZ, both of which are 18 goal tournaments.
Do you have a team? If so, tell me the history of the team. Was it difficult to put together?
I play for different teams all the time and have no ‘set’ team. However, the team that springs to mind is the all-female team that Lucy Taylor set up (Appetized Team-these were our sponsors) to play the men’s national 8 goal league. We have played together now for many years and have had some great and historic wins. Not only do we play well together but we are all great friends so it is extra special. The team is Lucy Taylor, Tamara Fox (my sister), Emma Wood and myself.
What has been your greatest triumph to date?
Winning the British Gold Cup in 2003 and winning the Gerald Balding and Holden white (National 8 goals) in England with the above mentioned all-female team.
What dreams do you still need to conquer?
I feel like I have achieved a lot already and now I want to enjoy my polo and continue to play at the top level for as long as possible. I also want to see women’s polo continue to grow and flourish.
What 3 recommendations would you give to women who are thinking of taking up the sport?
I would say, go for it, find the right ponies for you and play with people you enjoy playing with. Also, I would say, get fit!
In the saddle, in the game what would be your tips for an advanced woman player?
I would say, you can always improve your game through technique and riding ability, so always be open to advice and instruction from other people and never stop trying to improve. The smallest pieces of advice from people can often have the biggest impact on your game, so keep listening.
We have received some emails: many women say there is a lack of respect from men during the mixed practice/tournament just because of being a woman. What advice would you give them?
Don’t worry about the opinion of anyone else. Play hard and concentrate on your own game and improving your own polo and don’t worry about the negative attitudes of others. As long as you are enjoying yourself and enjoying your polo then it doesn’t matter what they think. Strive to make you do the talking and then they won’t have anything to comment on. I like nothing more when I play against people who don’t know me and have already formed a negative opinion; seeing them change their mind throughout the game is a real thrill.
Another question: it is obvious that women’s polo is weaker than men’s polo. What do you think is the most important aspect if a woman wants to achieve good results in polo in spite of all the difficulties and obstacles to take her courage in both hands and keep going, or may be better to avoid stress, play and have fun? What achieves the best results?
It totally depends on what you, personally, want to get out of the sport. If you are there for pure fun and enjoyment then that is ok and a more relaxed attitude is fine. If you want to improve and genuinely want to get more from the game then you must work hard, push hard and make sure you are as physically fit as possible and that your horses are as prepared as they can be and you are trained and ready. Then you will see results.
You play at the top level. Do you ever feel scared as you go out on the field? Do you think if somebody is scared -she has to stop or she has to overcome her fear?
I have never been scared to go out on the field, apart from the odd performance-related nerves, which I think are helpful if controlled in the right way. If I was ever scared about playing then I don’t think I would play or I would adjust how I played to accommodate this. If that were the case it would not be possible to play at the level that I play at now.
What do you like doing when you are not playing? Do you have any hobbies?
I like most sports and enjoy playing them socially. I also love my vegetable garden and am trying to cook more interesting meals including all my fresh produce. JP and I also love watching box-sets and in our down time we can get through them pretty quickly!
You travel a lot and as far as we know you follow the polo seasons. Where is your home? If you could live anywhere where would you prefer to live?
We split our time evenly between England and New Zealand and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to call both homes. I love them both for different reasons, but probably I eventually see us settling down permanently in New Zealand.
What are your other business apart from polo? How do you balance that with polo?
I own a Japanese restaurant called ‘Soushi’ in Cirencester with some friends of mine that we have had for nearly 6 years. We also give polo lessons and offer polo holidays at our club Mystery Creek Polo Club in New Zealand. The former is managed and looked after by my friends who have done a fantastic job and the latter fits in brilliantly around my polo.
If it’s not a secret can we ask you about your family? How and when did you meet your husband? You travel a lot. Is it difficult to be far away from your family?
JP and I have been married for almost 10 years and we have a 4-year-old daughter called Elizabeth. I hate being away from my family but it comes as part of the territory of being a polo player. I am never away from Elizabeth for very long if I can help it and JP and I mainly travel together apart from the odd trips here and there where our schedules and commitments mean we have to travel separately.
Do you have vacations from polo? If so what do you do?
We do have the odd vacation from polo and we tend to do something entirely without horses. In New Zealand, we head to Waiheke Island with friends and fish, taste wine, and generally take a break from polo. In England, at the end of the season, we either head to Cornwall or Scotland for a week or so. It is lovely to have a break from the horses but we are always keen to get back!
Which is your favoured shop for buying your polo attire and equipment and who is your favourite designer when socialising off the field?
I buy my polo kit from many different shops but mainly RJ Polo in England and Casablanca. My favourite designer is Reiss. Other than that, my clothes come mainly from the high street. I am not a big shopper and mainly shop online as I find it far easier.
How do you envisage the continuing growth of women’s polo over the next few years?
As long as we continue to champion and celebrate it from the grass routes up, then I see women’s polo continuing to flourish and grow on a global level. I am excited and eager to watch these developments and hope that I can help women’s polo to reach it’s full potential.
We would love your opinion over our new magazine and indeed welcome your comments:
It is exciting and encouraging to see a magazine dedicated to women’s polo and it is a sign of the times and clearly defines the impact that women’s polo is having globally. I am thrilled to be a part of it and look forward to following its progress.
Thanks for talking with us, Nina!
By Katya Prunkova