We Brits are a great contradiction. On the one hand we are infamous globally for our questionable behaviour on Marbella style vacations. On the other, the world believes there’s something so proper, classy and quaint about our heritage, history and all things adorned with the union jack.
They say people in high places judge each other on the watches, cars and pens that they own. Well, add the activities they partake in to that list. Fabulous things rich folk like include horses, fine wine, sailing, private jets, black credit cards, pre-nup agreements, professional blow dry’s, butlers, white trousers on men, range rovers and the air of being a very classy girl.
Stuff rich people love also includes sports that the rest of the world does not pay attention to, including aerobatics, shooting and polo. Most attractive to the wealthy in polo, is that the horse is central to the match and money can buy happiness and success.
To speak the language of polo you need to understand the basics. Each team on the field consists of 4 players and their horses. The object is to strike the ball through the posts at the opponent’s end line, the most goals wins. One match is typically 8 ‘’chukka’s’’ or periods, which last 7 minutes each. What truly distinguishes this as stuff that rich people love, is that polo players typically switch horses after each chukka – that’s 8 horses ponies per rider per game!
I introduced myself to the sport this weekend with the first of the annual high-goal UK tournaments; The Cartier Queen’s Cup Final at Guards Polo Club, Windsor (Guards is the biggest polo club in Europe). They told me that the day’s team sheets read like a polo Who’s Who. Sunday was the date for the final of The Cartier Queen’s Cup – featuring Dubai v King Power Foxes.
I was told that after the previous 22-goal matches that this was going to be an epic game featuring Facundo Pieres v Adolfo Cambiaso. So, the Messi and Ronaldo’s of polo. The final, with trophy’s presented by the Queen, took place straight afterwards on the field.
THE QUEEN PRESENTED THE TROPHY TO THAILANDS WINNING TEAM, DUBAI WERE RUNNERS UP.
This is what I learned.
ITS NOT JUST A BRITISH THING.
Polo is now a big thing all across the world; in fact, the final winning team at Guards Polo Club this weekend were Thailand. It’s also big in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Morocco and the USA. In fact according to the Polo Times ‘’ Polo is played all over the planet and over 50 countries worldwide are involved in the game. The dominant nations are Argentina, the USA and Britain, each of which has a thriving polo scene and industry. Other polo hotspots include New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Dubai, China, Chile and Spain.’’
QUEEN ELIZABETH ARRIVES, ALL SMILES AND IN THE PINK!
TEA AND CURRY ARENT THE ONLY THING BRITS PILFERED FROM INDIA.
The modern game of polo, though formalised and popularised by the British, is derived from India, where the game was known as ‘Pulu’. The name polo is said to have been derived from the Tibetanword “pulu”, meaning ball.The first polo club was established in Assam, India, in 1833. The reason the players wear white pants is as the Indian players needed something light to avoid heat-seeking mosquitos.
At Guards, The Royal box is a part of the polo grounds, slap bang in the centre of the field for the best views of the match.
Convenient for Queen Lizzie as her abode is next door. Apparently she treats the grounds like her back garden, often to be seen driving her own (vey cheap regular) Land Rover across the grounds.in fact Prince Phillip drove her in on Sunday himself! Its not called the sport of Kings for nothing. But it is a sport of Kings that anyone can play…
THEY DO WELCOME EVERYONE TO JOIN IN
Yes, inclusivity is the way forwards. One of the aims of the clubs is to dispel the myths associated with polo and make the sport accessible to all. Sussex Polo Club, for example, was set up in 2002, with the slogan “more new blood, less blue blood”. Contrary to popular belief, most polo games are cheap to watch. Entry to some parks for their biggest day, the Gold Cup final, costs under £20 per person in advance. Many smaller clubs around the world don’t charge entry at all. In fact, many of the UKs clubs have more social members than playing members. Playing polo is not cheap. But contrary to popular belief, it is not exclusively the preserve of millionaires. Although running a high-goal polo team requires a well-padded bank balance, a growing number of enthusiasts are playing locally at weekends, hiring ponies or perhaps keeping just a horse or two to play.
The Prince of Wales found he had suffered more serious injuries from playing polo than Amir Khan has done from boxing. Polo is the game for true men of steel. The idea of actually straddling a horse and playing polo makes my blood rush. I could just about hit the ball in hockey at school and forget rounders- I hated it. This is multi-tasking on behemoth levels.
Whether a rider on the ponies or a socialite on the polo scene, Polo is one of the most, if not THE most activity to partake in or attend. You will find many HNWI (high net worth individuals), are a part of this very exclusive scene. Amongst the sponsors at Guards Polo Club for example, are big brand names like Cartier, Audi, The Dorchester, Land Rover and more.
THE WINNING BOTTY TABLE SET UP OUTSIDE THE ROYAL BOX.
Most sports teams win sponsors and cups. But at the polo the main sponsor Cartier also gift each player in each finals team, with a very big face blinging Cartier. Forget the cup, it’s all about the booty.
From the elderly gent’s in their grey slacks, navy blazers and straw hats directing people, to the weathered faced outdoorsy horsey types, to the marching band and drummers, this is old school British heritage at its finest.
THIS DUDE POPPED HIS STICKS IN MY HAND AND ENCOURAGED ME TO BEAT HIS DRUM.
Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, regardless of how much money you have, their manners are friendly, welcoming, informative and formal. EVEN ALL THE OTHER PAPARAZZI ARE LOVELY AND HELPFUL TO EACH OTHER! (Totally unheard of).
GET THE VERNACULAR RIGHT.
Regulars at any event can tell if you’re a regular or newbie. This is more prevalent than ever at the polo. There are subtle yet not strict rules. For example one always refers to the horses as ‘’pony’s’’. The mounts used are called ‘polo ponies’, although the term ‘pony’ is purely traditional and the mount is actually a full-sized horse. The polo pony is selected carefully for quick bursts of speed, stamina, agility and manoeuvrability. Standing on the side of the pony lines watching the riders gallop up at high speed, screech to a stop and leap sideways to a fresh pony is breath-taking (and slightly terrifying!). Pony tails are either wrapped or braided to stop them becoming entangled with the sticks.
GET THE DRESSCODE RIGHT – YOU CANT STOMP DIVETS IN STILETTOS
The surface of a polo field requires careful and constant grounds maintenance to keep the surface in good playing condition. During half-time of a match, spectators are invited to go onto the field to participate in a polo tradition called “divot stamping”, which has developed to not only help replace the mounds of earth (divots) that are torn up by the horses’ hooves, but to afford spectators the opportunity to walk about and socialise. (It’s not clear who was the first enterprising club manager to realize he had an abundant and cheap grounds-keeping crew at his disposal, but old-timers will tell you the job used to be done by hired help).
For this reason, dress code is a very intricate choice. Regulars like Princess Kate may well just rock a nautical t-shirt with jeans and ballet pumps but all other female regulars rock wedges. At a special polo day with final matches and public riffraff like me attending, they may make a bigger effort with smart trousers and a blouse or a floaty frock with blazer, but on NO ACCOUNT will a lady that’s classy and knows her polo etiquette, wear the Essex look of tight, bright mini-dress and vertiginous stilettos that sink into the grass. It’s awkward to watch a newbie polo attendee totter around looking uncomfortable all day. No one will point or snigger openly. But they saw you. And judged. Trust me. They think you’re vulgar.
KNOW YOUR POLO FABULOSITY SPOTS.
Guards at Ascot, Henley, Ascot, Hurlingham, and Cowdry are part of the polo location vocabulary in the same way that Aspen, Capri and St Barts are for vacations.
VIP TENTS VS. REAL RANGES AND POLO MEMBERS
On a very big public event like a polo final, the real horsey community don’t care about the superfluous dressed up VIP tents, catering for once a year visitors and their fancy 3 course lunches and champagne flutes. In fact what I noticed was that, they pull up in the car park alongside the playing field and open up the boot of their big, family range and out pops a fully set picnic with hampers. Many of them also bring pop up mini marquees, foldup chairs and tables. Don’t get it twisted though. They can afford the fancy experience and much more, but they choose to spend their cash wisely. (The polo merchandise shop on site sells a simple shirt for £120! – I wanted a navy one real bad and nearly bought it, but my photographer Richard gave me ‘’the reality talk’’ as I was fumbling for my credit card).
LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS
Whilst most of us partake in some apple bobbing at the fair or wall climbing at the O2, at polo, the punters get to play with the sponsor’s wares. For example Land Rover owners not only get to relax in its exclusive hospitality area with a complimentary ciabatta and soft drink or afternoon tea, in addition spectators were able to experience how the latest Land Rover models handle the steep incline of the mighty Twin-Terrapod. Like Alton Towers where you drive your own ride!
Set up just offsite, next to the car park, are four stalls. A hog roast stall that does pulled pork rolls. A coffee and sandwich stall. A bar staff for drinks like the expected champagne and pimms set. And the best of all find for me? A mobile POPS wagon that sells ice pops/ ice-lollies. But not any ice lollypops. Oh no, these are made from champagne and Bellini ingredients! The champagne popsicle was divine! There are no chips, burgers or fried chicken options here. So if you’re not a sarnie girl or if you are Muslim, eat before you come! Also, bring real cash. It’s all in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. Wireless credit card transactions can be ropey.
THEY’RE USED TO THE QUEEN- AND POLITELY RESPECTFUL.
Can you imagine The Queen popping to Ealing Community Centre to hand out prizes without huge fanfare, security, hysteria and pomp? No, neither can I. what’s really impressive about the polo crowd is that they don’t scream or ask her for a selfie, but politely take photos from a distance.
The Queen is clearly quite comfortable walking around freely and conversing in these well-behaved circles. Polo doesn’t discriminate between humans and animals. As well as the best player awards, even the pony’s get a look in with the best pony being crowned and being wrapped in a Cartier blanket.
The pony was even walked up to the Queen who clearly knows and loves her horsey talk.
THERE ARE REAL VIPS AND THENTHERE ARE REGULAR CELEBS.
There’s nothing us media folk like more than to see the divide between real A Lister household names and then your average celeb that’s gotten famous in dubious ways. How they all sit above and below each other on the chart chain of celebdom is of great entertainment.
DAME JOAN COLLINS LOOKING EVERY INCH THE GLAMOUROUS FILM STAR AT GAURDS POLO CLUB.
For example, bonafide classic legends like Dame Joan Collins, supermodel and Jaggers ex wifey Jerry Hall, actress Stephanie Powers and other various Lords and Ladies were guests in the Royal Box.
JERRY HALL IN THE ROYAL BOX AT GAURDS POLO CLUB.
Whilst tennis ace Boris Becker, singer Ellie Goulding and others were merely VIP guests of Cartier, quite a safe distance away from the real old moneyed wealth.
THE POLO SOCIAL SCENE IS POPPING!
The polo set love to party with themed dances and a very full annual social calendar. Tickets for the Club’s amazing, 1950s-themed dinner dance on Saturday 27 June are like gold dust. Not surprising, with classic cocktails, sumptuous food and decadent theming, plus twilight polo and a bespoke cabaret. If that is not enough you can then dance into the night with a Big Band. Ticket info here; firstname.lastname@example.org ‘’Fifties fashion is encouraged’’.
P.S YOU CAN’T PLAY POLO IF YOU’RE A LEFTIE.
No not your political aspirations; Left-handed. Why are there no left-handed players? Lefties were officially banned from polo in the mid-1930s for safety reasons, but the restriction was relaxed after World War II when polo players of any persuasion were a scarce lot. Then clubs reinstated the lefty ban again in 1974 and it’s stuck: there are no more left-handed polo players. They can only play if they are willing to play right-handed . To understand why, consider this: you’re driving merrily down the road when all of a sudden, coming straight at you, is a crazed American driving on the right side of the road. The panic you’d feel in that situation is just what a right-handed polo player feels when he and a lefty approach the ball from opposite directions.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST;
If there’s only one thing you take away from this don’t forget, if you’re a lady attending polo, forget the stilettos. And whatever the weather sunglasses are quintessential!
(ALL PICTURES COPYRIGHT RICHARD PASCOE. @RICHARDPASCOE).