For once, I woke up early on a Sunday morning eagerly. I was off to learn polo, known as the sport of kings.
I am neither sporty nor a particularly adept horseman – a horse actually tried to roll over on me during a sedate trail walk in Arizona with my mother, in which a bunch of elementary school-aged children sure got an earful. However, the idea of learning polo seemed interesting and this trip is all about learning new things and getting out of my comfort zone, so off I went to the countryside of Argentina.
Learning the Sport of Kings
I arrived at the polo retreat with two other Americans keen to learn and was instantly charmed. The retreat is laid out on a huge sprawling estate with beautiful manor houses and rambling, immaculate stables that house hundreds of horses. We were greeted with coffee and cakes as we met the owner, an Englishman living in Argentina with his family. Our teacher was out for a family emergency so we were to spend the day learning at the hands of the owner himself.
The morning began with an amusing lesson of how to swing the ridiculously long polo sticks at the balls while standing on top of a chair. Unsurprisingly, I seemed to miss the ball more often than not. After a quick coaching lesson, I began to improve dramatically. Satisfied with my newfound talents, we wandered off to watch a polo match while our horses were readied for us.
Polo looks like a majestic sport from afar, but up close I saw the danger in it. Mallets flying, horses thundering, racing into the fray. I’m not entirely sure how everyone stays seated or avoids injury, though we were told injuries to both man and horse are quite common. As we watched, I kept getting further enchanted by polo: finally, an interesting sport to watch.
We headed back to the stables and got dressed before mounting our horses.
Instantly Hooked – Even if the Horses Did The Work
I am not particularly afraid of horses, though I used to be as a child – I remember ruining everyone’s trail ride when I was about seven with my incessant crying and refusal to trot. I took some lessons when I first moved to Arizona and now feel somewhat comfortable astride a horse.
Shortly we were cantering on the giant beasts, racing toward tiny balls with our awkward mallets. I swung widely and missed completely. Eventually I was able to hit the ball, but it generally involved slowing the horse down upon my approach. The owner’s daughter, all of about eleven, trotted up to me and counseled me to lean completely off the horse to hit the ball. Right. She’s been riding horses since infancy; I’d been on them a couple hours now. I’d rather stay seated.
She further counseled me that everyone falls off; that’s what makes you a rider. Apparently you have to fall off 7 times at minimum to learn how to ride properly. Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. I’m not falling off a horse no matter how good of a rider I want to be. She shrugged and told me it was nothing to be worried about as only 1% of the time does the horse actually step on or crush you.
Turns out I would fall off the horse rather unexpectedly about an hour later. And while the sudden contact with the ground was jarring, it was by no means scary.
We spent several long hours on the horses, racing to and fro in sad attempts to hit the ball toward one side of the field. I was instantly hooked on this new wild sport. After hours of practice, we squared up for a short match against each other and laughed as chaos ensued. Several inexperienced polo riders led to a bumbling match in which the horses seemed to know more about the plays than we did. Nonetheless, it was great fun.
Exhausted after a long lesson, we headed back to the main lodge for a delicious Argentine barbecue and swim in the infinity pool with stunning views of the countryside. All in all, not a bad way to spend a lazy Sunday.
Looking for more things to do in Argentina? Check out the Buenos Aires zoo, drink some wine at the amazing Mendoza vineyards, or head to the extreme south and sample some of the best Patagonia restaurants.