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Monday, June 17, 2024

The Latest Addiction In Town

by Julia Wheeler

With the opening of the new grass playing field at Ghantoot the game of polo in the UAE will get a tremendous boost

The people who play describe it as the biggest adrenaline rush they know. It is a game, which mixes so many things from other sports; the finest players combine excellent horsemanship, an eye for the ball, as well as strength and stamina.

Eight players, four from each team are on the polo field at any one time. They play in a one, two, three, four formation, with number one as the front attack player and number four as the main defender. Their game is divided into seven minute ‘chukkas,’ and the whole match is made up for four or six chukkas, depending on the level of the game.

Obviously polo ponies are an integral part of the polo picture. They need to combine the speed of a racehorse with the agility of an animal that might be used, for example, in rounding up cattle on a ranch. Increasingly polo ponies are being bred specifically for the sport.

If it is tough on the players, polo also takes it out of the ponies; they play for just a single chukka during any match. That means a player must master at least four different seats during any one game.

From the edge of the polo field, the game can appear dangerous to spectators. After all, it is a cocktail of all the normal hazards of horse riding and hockey, with a generous measure of high speed. Perhaps precisely because of the potential dangers, safety is a number one priority.

“All of the rules of polo focus around the safety aspect,” says Christian Wroe, the Assistant Polo Manager at the Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club. “You can compare it to driving on a motorway, with cars joining and leaving the road along its length. Just as there rules on the road, so there are rules of the polo field. They govern the distance each rider and pony leaves for the others, their safety and their speed.”

At any one time just one player has the right of way and that limits the movements of all the other players on the field.

The game of polo in the United Arab Emirates is just about to receive a major boost, with the opening of a grass field at Ghantoot, on the Abu Dhabi side of the Abu Dhabi-Dubai border. It is to be the first place in the country where the public can go along to watch a match, but there will also be the opportunity for companies to entertain their corporate guests.

Ghantoot prides itself on being second to no other polo club in the world. The grass, the floodlights, the clubhouse and the entertainment facilities will all be the best on offer. Imagine a balmy evening, Arabic tents on the lawn, horses galloping under floodlights and the thwack of mallet on ball.

You could be inspired enough to learn to play yourself. At Ghantoot the game attracts all nationalities of people and both men and women. Of course, you have to be a relatively competent rider if you are to master the game, but enthusiasm is also right up there on the scale of importance.

“I am a newcomer to the sport really,” explains Faisal Qaragholi, a leading Dubai businessman. “But even so, I have become quite addicted to the game. There is a lot to conquer and it is such an exciting experience.”

“It is a great challenge and every time you come off the field, you want to go back on to achieve more. I never come off feeling that my game was perfect. I can always do better,” says Wroe.

“Polo players are hungry for the game. In fact for them, it is less a game and more a disease.”

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