I have been planning on attending the Houston Polo Club two-hour $200 intro polo clinic for some time, and I finally took the plunge last Tuesday! I had no idea what to expect as the clinic guidelines didn’t even require participants to know how to ride!. But I have always loved watching the dramatic action of polo and wanted to appreciate the sport more, so I was excited to put on my boots and learn.
We began the clinic by breaking up our 8-person group into two groups, one learning how to use the polo mallet and the other learning how to properly ride in a polo saddle.
Mark Prinsloo, Houston Polo Club’s Senior Polo Manager, taught us how to hold the mallet and how to sit properly in the saddle. Mark’s expertise and thoroughly fun teaching style made it easy to learn how to shoot half shots, full shots and back shots. Polo saddles are built for allowing the rider to move, flexibly taking shots on either side of the horse. Even though polo is always played right-handed, there isn’t a lot of room for building stability in the saddle. Inner thigh muscles are basically the best way to stay on the horse with your knees “locking” you in from the mid-thigh to the ankle.
Proper mallet swinging form is much like golf. You don’t move your head, and your shoulder and your mallet arm should be an equal line with your other shoulder pointing where you want the ball to go. This makes a lot of sense while sitting on a stationary iron horse – it is a lot tougher on a moving animal!
Next, we moved to the arena where polo and riding instructors Paige and Barlee Flanders taught us how to post in the saddle and most importantly STAY in the saddle. “I shouldn’t see any daylight between your knees and the saddle!,” was the constant refrain. That and “Tighten up your reins and keep those legs quiet! More weight in the heels!” Whew! I had a lot to learn.
I had some previous experience riding English but the polo saddle is a totally different feel. The stirrups are hinged for ease of movement, and once the horse starts moving it’s tough to keep my knees locked into the sides of the horse while keeping my balance. With some practice, however, I started to feel like I was getting the hang of it, keeping the proper posture of lining up my earlobes with my hips and my ankles in good alignment. Paige and Barlee are great teachers and very patient!
Mark moved us out to the polo field, and we worked on hitting softballs through goal posts. I had expected to be running at a trot by now and hitting the ball squarely through the posts. It looked so easy until we students tried it, at a walk. Whiff… after whiff… after whiff… We all missed on our first tries. Turns out leaning off a horse and trying to hit a softball with a bamboo mallet requires a lot more balance and skill than I expected. But I could tell with some practice and better polo saddle skills I could get there… someday.
By far, playing on Flanders Field was the highlight of the class, but the sun was dipping in the horizon and the horses were eyeing their stables and ready to call it a day.
I really loved the experience. I never felt unsafe or overly challenged. Even the constant hum of Houston traffic from I-10 didn’t distract me from the beauty of the verdant green fields, the thrill of riding these beautiful polo ponies and the feeling of accomplishment having learned so much more about this amazing sport. I encourage everyone to try it out!
The next clinic is Tuesday, April 16, from 6-8pm. Polo School starts next week which is a twice-a-week, two-hour lesson given on Tuesdays and Saturdays for eight weeks. The Houston Polo Club provides the horses, tack, mallet and helmet for all participants. After the class you can join the superfun Margarita league, even if you aren’t a Polo Club member! Contact The Houston Polo Club for more details and learn the sport of queens.
Don’t forget about our first Let’s Grow, Girl! Growing Together meetup planned for 5:30pm Friday, May 3, at the Houston Polo Club! Mark your calendars! Bring your girlfriends for fun, free ‘tailgaiting’ (pun intended) where we can meet each other, enjoy light bites and a welcome refreshment, learn about polo, pet horses, meet riders, and watch a fast-paced and exciting polo match!