Of polo players and love for horses

HARARE – The cost of buying a horse ranges between $25 000 and $30 000 locally while globally one has to part ways with around $150 000.

On average in a polo four-chukka game requires one to have four horses for the average person in order to compete in a tournament. And it is for this reason that a famous joke within the sport says that “a polo player will more likely lend his wife than his horse”.

Polo comprises seven minute periods called chukkas with three minute breaks in between the chukka and the A division is usually made up of five to six chukkas.

The four-member team comprises a number one who is basically a striker, the goalkeeper who is the number four, the captain who normally fills the role of a sweeper and the midfielder (number two). It is played by four players aside each riding on horseback on a field nine times bigger than an American football field.

It is one of the few sports where men and women compete on the same team.

As the third edition of the Ambassadors Cup scheduled for the Bushman Rock and Safaris in Ruwa this Friday and Saturday, the resort’s managing director Jonathan Passportis explained some of the fundamentals required in polo.

International wealth management company Carrick Wealth are this year’s title sponsors of the eight-team tournament with the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany Thorsten Hutter hosting the event. Last year it was sponsored by Fine and Country in collaboration with the British Business Association and was hosted by the British Ambassador Catriona Laing.

“Polo is an amazing sport in that it’s actually considered the most dangerous sport you can play in the world. The saying goes; we’ve got two types of polo players- we have got a polo player who will have a serious injury and you will have a type of polo players who are going to have serious injuries, there’s nowhere in between,” Passaportis said.

True to his analysis, Passaportis will not be taking part in this year’s games after injuring his head at last year’s meet.

“I am testimony to that and you won’t see me play this year because I have a cracked skull from playing polo last year. I’ve got a dent in my head forever because of playing polo.

“Polo is very (very) dangerous and that brings in a very unique thing in that it is played by slightly weird people that have an adrenalin requirement in their lives,” he added.

“It’s played four aside. Most people say the field is really big but it’s about two or three football fields- it’s actually nine fields. The reason is you are riding a 500kg horse going 35km to 40km an hour and another seven horses doing the same thing so you need that space. There’s a lot of things coming close they can be a lot of accidents. When accidents happen it will be a high pace with a whole lot of velocity.”

Their love for the horses is priceless.

“The rules of polo are there for the horses’ safety. We don’t really care much about ourselves as polo players. We really care about our horses and there’s one of those funny polo sayings which is ‘a polo player will more likely lend his wife than his horse.’ Our horses are really very (very) important to us,” Passaportis added.

“In Zimbabwe the prices of horses are slightly repressed compared to globally that is always been. In the past we had very (very) healthy horse breeding for our horse racing fraternity which is going a little depressed at the moment so horses are getting more expensive.

“All horses that you get to see on the weekend are valued between $25 000 and $30 000 but the majority of horses that you see are about $5 000.

“Globally, a really good horse you will be looking at about $150 000 for a horse. Zimbabwe is probably one of the cheapest places you can go get a horse.”

Last year, the draw card was the presence of the Argentine brothers Pancho and Guillo Macloughin but this year the spotlight will be on the Meikle brothers Zimbabwe’s polo first family. They have been a phenomenal polo family. The most successful of them at one point was rated one of the top polo players of all time.

“Everyone in Zimbabwe is amateur …there’s no prize money, it’s an amateur sport, any money that’s generated we tend to pass that on to a charity of our choice so we just do it for the love of sport, for the love of the danger and for the adrenalin,” he said.

“There are predominantly ex-race horses in Zimbabwe although we do have some pretty good Argentine black lines which have been introduced over the last 15 to 20 years bringing the quality of our horses up, we still have a shortage of horses in the country particularly beginner players.”

He adds that beginner players do not use exactly the same horses as the experienced ones.

“As beginner players come along, they need a slightly different horse to a better player. The better players will ride slightly faster, dangerous horses whereas a beginner player kinda just wants your horse to do what you ask them to do,” he said.

“Four chukkas requires each player to have a minimum of four horses. If you are someone a little bit bigger than the average person it’s going to be a little bit harsh to ask the same of your horses that it would be for the average person hence you gonna require two or three more horses.”