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Getting To Know Polo Star Nina Clarkin

Getting To Know Polo Star Nina Clarkin

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.

nina clarkin at home

First of all, please tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in England and had a wonderful upbringing. I was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College and then, I 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 the VWH Pony Club 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 into it, but I think it was through a lady called Lisa who encouraged us all to play. 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 me to play Polo.

Why Polo: Is it your passion for horses or the sport?

To begin playing at a young age, it was the enjoyment of playing a sport with friends. 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. Horses just became an obsession and helped develop my passion. It adds 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.

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 by either running, cycling, swimming or do Pilates. Then, I will do stick and ball or individually ride my horses when needed, depending on their playing schedule and how they are going.  I can ride from two horses a day to up to eight depending on what is needed.

Can you please give us an example of your typical training day?

In New Zealand, we play chukkas most days when we are not playing tournaments and that would be about six chukkas in the afternoon. I will often train in the morning before we play, either at the gym or at home.

Nina Clarkin in game

Do you play in purely women tournaments or mixed? What do you prefer more and why?

I play in both and I enjoy them for different reasons. I have grown up and played most of my polo in mixed tournaments and really loved that.  However, with the rise of women’s polo and the improvement to the game, I am taking great pleasure in playing with women, watching the level improve, and seeing the rise in numbers of women participating.

How many ponies do you own? Where are they?

I have between 6-10 ponies in England which include a couple of young ones. My husband JP and I have about 40 in New Zealand and their age ranges from foals to 15 years old.

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 favorite one?

I am not really sure, but I guess about 40 tournaments a year.  My favorites are the Gerald Balding at Cirencester Park Polo Club, an 8 goal tournament in England, and the NZ Open and the Savill Cup in New Zealand, both of which are 18 goal tournaments.

Do you have a team?

I play for different teams all the time. 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 composed of my sister Tamara Fox, Lucy Taylor, Emma Wood and myself.

What three 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.  It is also important to get fit.

In the saddle during the game, what would be your tips for advanced woman players?

They can always improve their game through technique and riding ability, so always be open to advice and instructions 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.

Many women say there is a lack of respect from men during the mixed practice or 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. Don’t worry about the negative attitude 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 minds throughout the game is a real thrill.

Nina Clarkin in action

Right now, women’s polo is weaker than men’s polo. What do you think is the most important aspect if a woman wants to achieve the best results?

It totally depends on what you want to get out of the sport. If you are there for pure fun and enjoyment, then it is okay to have a more relaxed attitude. If you want to improve and genuinely want to get more from the game, then you must work hard, push hard, make sure you are as physically fit as possible, and that your horses are as prepared as they can be. When you are trained and ready, you will see great results.

You play at the top level. Do you ever feel scared as you go out on the field?

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, 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 has been your greatest triumph to date?

Winning the British Gold Cup in 2003 and winning the Gerald Balding and Holden White in England with the above mentioned all-female team.

Nina Clarkin with trophy

What does it feel like to be one of the best lady players in the world?

I am incredibly proud, but I don’t really think about it too much. I just concentrate on my polo and what more do I want to achieve.

What dreams do you still want to conquer?

I feel like I have achieved a lot already. Now, I want to enjoy polo and continue to play at the top for as long as possible. I also want to see women’s polo continue to grow and flourish.

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 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 downtime, we can get through them pretty quickly!

You travel a lot. Which country do you consider to be your home?

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 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 six years. We also give polo lessons and offer polo holidays at our 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? Since 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 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. JP and I 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 an 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 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!

What is your favorite shop for buying your polo attire and equipment? Do you have a favorite designer?

I buy my polo kit from many different shops, but mainly RJ Polo in England and Casablanca.  My favorite 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 grassroots 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 its full potential.

We would love your opinion of our new magazine, what do you think about it?

It is exciting and encouraging to see a magazine dedicated to women’s polo. It’s 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!

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