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Date added: 21 September 2006

Polo - a SwindonWeb Adventure 

Nothing to do in Swindon? Think again!

In this the fourth part of a series of SwindonWeb adventures we've been out and about finding things to do that are just a little more exciting than the usual.
 
Things that are a: not neccessarily the type of fun activity you may associate with our lovely home town and b: something which we can film some humiliating video of someone trying out.

Part Four: Polo, darling!

with SwindonWeb's game girl on horseback, Liz Ledger
When I was told my first SwindonWeb adventure would involve horses it brought a twinkle to my eye.

OK I was no Zara Phillips, but I remembered my previous horse experience with some fondness. It was on Bournemouth beach as I recall, and the pony was called Zak. I must have been about ten.

So as we approached Lynt Farm, just outside Highworth, in our convoy of SwindonWeb minis, I wasn't too worried that they hadn't filled me in on the exact details of my adventure.
 

I was confident it would involve a field and some light trotting, and perhaps even a rare chance to don my dashing cowboy hat. Yee-ha!
But the alarm bells soon rang as our cars pulled over, not outside a dainty little riding pen, but a full scale polo pitch.

And upon seeing polo lesson signs, not to mention strong Argentinean accents coming from the stables (the Argies rule the roost when it comes to polo), it suddenly dawned on me that this would be a little more than the stroll in the park I'd naively expected.

Now hang on a minute, how about learning to crawl before I can run the marathon! I was under no illusion that I could actually ride a horse - in fact I clearly remember Zak and the beach hand doing all the work for me in my only equestrian experience to date.
 

But, as I was repeatedly reassured, this was in the name of local journalism and I was in the safest possible hands at the Inglesham Polo Club, where they have coached everyone from England internationals to complete novices like myself.

And upon meeting my instructor Jamie I was immediately put at ease - I couldn't have asked for a nicer person with whom to share my ritual humiliation!

Thankfully too I wasn't entirely thrown in at the deep end and chucked into a Friday night 'chukka' event against a crack squad of bullish Argentineans and told to cling on for my dear life as I had first feared.
 
Instead I was given an hour long lesson with Jamie in which I learned the four main strokes (nearside forehand, nearside backhand, offside forehand and, in case you haven't already guessed, offside backhand), and how best to address the ball whilst simultaneously not falling off the horse.
 
 
The horse in question was Illusion, a beautiful dark brown Uruguayan, standing at 15 hands, who moved with great elegance and seemingly complete confidence in me not to clobber him with the mallet!

For the safety of Illusion and even more so myself, I was first given a session on a wooden horse in a specially built practice pen where beginners can learn to strike the ball from the saddle.

For someone who doesn't often indulge in racquet sports and, I can safely say, has never been jousting, the basic polo stroke is somewhat harder than it looks to get to grips with; more so when surrounded by a trigger happy photographer and cameraman trying their best not to laugh.
 

I hadn't been swiping at the ball (or more accurately, the air) for long before my wrist was aching and frustration growing.

If it was this difficult from a scaled down toy horse, how would I cope with 15 hands of beast between my legs?

But the admirably patient Jamie gave me every possible guidance in how to address the ball and before I could muster up the energy to complain, he had me up on Illusion, circling the spacious sand stables with my sights on a goal on the back wall.
 

With some guidance from farm-hand Charlotte, who walked Illusion around so I could 'master' the mallet, I was soon peppering the goal from every direction. Or more accurately, peppering the ball in every direction but the goal.

And the moment I finally struck gold it was met with an almighty cheer (more relief than anything) from the spectators. And, I must say, it felt
So as I dismounted, it was time for the verdict from coach Jamie.
 
How'd I do?

"Pretty well for someone who's never really ridden a horse," he replied.

"So am I ready for the Friday night chukka?"

"Err.... no!"

I figured it was time to move over and admire the master at work.
England star Jamie, who has faced the likes of Adolfo Cambiaso, probably the world's greatest polo player, took to the pitch and hammered a ball around with as much elegance as he had patience as a coach.
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