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Playing Polo By Siobhan Herbst’s Rules

Playing Polo By Siobhan Herbst’s Rules

Siobhan Herbst with horse

Polo Lady chats with Siobhan Herbst, Polo Manager at Polo Wicklow in Ireland.

Siobhan is a fantastic player, 1-goal, club manager, and umpire. She has been playing since 2000, has been the club manager for ten years, and has umpired for more than a decade. We discussed some interesting subjects with her about Ladies Polo, umpiring, and training.

Siobhan Herbst with horse

What makes umpiring interesting?

“I think it is a very challenging task to umpire. You have to make instant decisionsーsome may be wrong, but you still have to stand by them. It’s an interesting job because it is down to you on how well the game flows and how well-controlled it is. From the start, you need to be strong in your decisions. Otherwise, you lose control and the games become dangerousーyou have an enormous responsibility when you are umpiring. There are eight players on half a ton of horse each that you are in charge of.”

Do you think it makes a difference that you are a woman? 

“I don’t think players in Ireland see me as any different because I am a woman. In fact, I have never come across anyone on the Polo field who does. I think it can work to your advantage, as in general, men will behave slightly better when there is a woman around. Or so you hope!!”

Is umpiring in Ladies’ Polo very different?

“I find umpiring Ladies’ Polo more challenging at times. In general, I have only umpired lower level of ladies’ games, so it is like lower level in men’s games, the umpiring is a lot harder. Although the fouls happen at a slower pace, there are many occasions where you get into a muddle as it’s hard to tell who made the first foul. Also, as we don’t have as long a shot as some of the men, the games are sometimes played in a shorter area, making it easier for players to be drawn into a foul that they may not have made, had they had space and the shot had been longer.”

What is your opinion about Ladies’ handicaps?

“At first, I didn’t see the point and didn’t like the fact that we were being separated from the men as we all want to be seen and treated as equals on the field. So why should we bring in something to separate us? Now that it has been running for four to five years and the players have adapted to them, I think it works well.

You have players like Hazel Jackson and Lia Salvo who play a lot of Ladies’ Polo. They are incredibly strong, great playmakers, and know how to work their team.

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They are more used to someone else who may be controlling the game or having another player of a similar standard to help them out. When you are used to being the second player on the field, it’s very different to being the playmaker, and the fem handicaps help separate these.”

What are your views on the Polo rules?

“When the no-turning rule came into effect, I thought it was great. It gave the lesser players, who may not have had the skill and the fancy ponies that could turn so quickly, a chance to compete with the ones who can dribble and turn the ball with their eyes closed. However, bringing this rule led to many facial injuries. I opened Facebook one day and three friends had broken noses, damaged eyes, or smashed teeth. All came from backhands so I began to change my mind. I think there needs to be an in-between rule here that prevents those injuries yet still makes a more even playing field. 

“I also think the main thing that needs to be changed in safety is the helmet. Polo is an expensive sport and many people risk their lives playing in poor helmets, some to save a few extra pounds as the safe ones are much more expensive and some because the safe helmets look silly. If it was made compulsory, then those image-conscious people wouldn’t have any choice but to be safe and we would all look the same.”

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What are your best tactical tips?

“I think the most important tactic in Polo is to use all your players to the best of their ability. Many pros will try to play alone because they are the best players. However, the best player is the one that can get 150% from their teammates. You may have some that are great riders but poor with the ball.

 Put them marking a good player from the oppositionーthe one who can carry the ball but are not great at riding off. Subsequently, they go up front and score the goals. It’s all about putting each player in the best position for them, so everyone contributes in their own way on the field.”

What are the tactics that players should practice to improve themselves?

“There are so many bad riders on the Polo field. I think it’s so important that they can ride well and handle their horse. If they keep pulling and tugging the horse, it will not give its’ best performance which in turn means you cannot give yours. The horse is 80% of the game, so if you can control that 80%, the other 20% becomes much easier.”

Which training routines do you recommend?

“Riding every day when possible. Also, stick and ball at least once or twice a week. But when you go out to stick and ball, give yourself a challenge or a spot you must try to hit. Don’t just go out aimlessly and hit the ball — that’s not good and gives you bad habits. You want to practice your accuracy and control of the ball.”

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