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Polo 101

Get the gear and try your hand at polo
Get the gear and try your hand at polo

An exciting, stimulating sport for horse and rider, polo is one of only a few true team sports in the equine world. HQ spoke to expert, Alicia Brokensha, from Kurland Estate about how to get started. South Africa has world-class players, ponies, trainers and facilities, so if you think you have what it takes, get involved today!

The pony

Sevenoaks 2 goal winnersAccording to Alicia, the best way to start is by hiring ponies. That way you can work out what suits you without having to outlay a large amount of money. Once you’re hooked, you can get your own ponies. You need a minimum of two ponies, and for tournament polo you will have to aim for four.

Most polo ponies in South Africa were once racehorses and have now been retrained for the polo field. “There are some very good producers of polo ponies in the country,” says Alicia, although she recommends that for your first pony you purchase a horse with polo experience.

The yard

You should start with a professional polo yard. If your pony is on full livery, most yards will exercise your horse twice a day, called ‘set work’ in the polo world. One horse is ridden and the rider leads another three or four. The horses walk and trot for 30 minutes to an hour on a track.


Again, it’s best to start by hiring tack at first. There is a huge amount of kit needed, and this doubles in size for each pony you have. Both horse and rider need a lot of protective gear, so it’s important not to skimp on tack.

For the horse:

  • Bridles: most polo ponies are bitted in a gag, three-ring gag or pelham.
  • Two reins, often one of them a running rein (in case one breaks while playing).
  • Standing martingale.
  • Polo saddle, as it has no knee rolls and a low cantle to allow the rider more movement on the horse.
  • Breastplate.
  • Surcingle over the girth as there is so much weight movement on top of the horse.
  • Polo bandages or medicine boots.

For the rider:

  • Polo hard hat: the recommended one with a three-point harness.
  • Long brown polo boots (black not allowed).
  • White jeans.
  • Polo sticks.
  • Goggles and mouth guard are recommended.

Finding a trainer

The polo player’s mecca in South Africa is definitely Plettenberg Bay, says Alicia, as there are various organisations offering tuition. However, other areas including Cape Town and Johannesburg have rapidly growing polo communities. To find an instructor or yard near you, contact the South African Polo Association.

The full article appears in the May issue of HQ.