Governed by the Australian Polo Federation and five State Associations, the game of polo is one at which Australia excels – we are currently ranked among the world’s top five polo-playing nations.
While the number of players in Australian falls just short of 1,000, making that ranking all the more impressive, we have a rich history in the game and awareness of the sport is growing steadily. During the season, men’s, women’s (a branch of the game gaining huge appeal) and youth team competitions attract an enthusiastic stream of spectators.
Key events in 2020 will include the Magic Millions in Queensland, the Portsea Polo spectacle in Victoria, and, of course, the annual Polo International Test Match when Australia will once again take on archrivals England.
One of Australia’s top polo players is Jack Archibald. He’s represented Australia on no less than 13 occasions, captaining the World Cup side in 2017, as well as the 2019 Test Match team, which succeeded in upsetting an extremely strong English side.
Jack, who has been riding since he could walk, has played professionally for the past 13 years. He’s competed all over the world, including Argentina, South Africa, Barbados, New Zealand, Malaysia, and India, and also plays for English teams during Australia’s off-season. Based in the Hunter Valley, he comes from a polo-playing family (both his brothers and his father play), that breeds its own Thoroughbred cross Australian Stock Horses for the game.
Involved with his local Bush Fire Brigade, which at the time of writing was still battling huge blazes, Jack kindly took time out to talk to us about the game he loves.
“If you’re interested in checking it out, or you’re already playing and want to improve, there are polo clinics running in both NSW and Victoria. Riverlands Polo operates out of the Windsor Polo Club in the Hawkesbury Valley, and Venture Polo is located at Werribee Park National Equestrian Centre to the south west of Melbourne’s CBD. Both clinics are run by professionals who cater for every level. They have a string of horse from beginners to advanced, and some world class coaches. There’s a guy setting up a clinic in Brisbane too, and that will be operational in about six months,” he explains.
But for Jack, there are a few basics that beg serious attention.
“My top tip for beginners in the game is to improve your overall riding skills. Riding is the most important part of polo. The rest is relatively easy to coach, but you have to spend time in the saddle – the more the better. No matter what discipline you might be involved in right now, aim at improving your riding. And never think that there’s nothing left to work on! I see so many people who think they can ride but actually can’t – and in a game of polo that can be quite dangerous,” Jack says.
“For a beginner, probably my next best tip is to get to know your horse. A lot of riders think they can just turn up and jump on, without really knowing the strengths and weaknesses of their horse. Lacking that awareness means they won’t understand how to ride in a way that best suits their horse’s abilities – and that will put both rider and horse at a huge disadvantage,” he adds.
But what if you’re already a player and want to up the ante on your game skills?
“For more experienced players, I suggest you go and find some of the better players in Australia, who are all pretty approachable, and get a lesson. I’m more than happy to help out anyone who contacts me, and that applies to most of the other good players I know,” Jack says.
He also has another great tip: “Polo is a very fast, up-tempo game, and while this might sound easier said than done, the main thing is to keep relaxed both mentally and physically. I think this is absolutely essential. If you become tense and distracted, your technique will go out the window, you’ll make poor decisions, and your horse will tense up as well.”
Fitness is important no matter what sport you play, and particularly essential for a polo player is flexibility: “I’ve just started doing yoga to increase my flexibility. If you want to take the game seriously, make sure that you have good core strength and that you’re flexible. You’re game will improve and the risk of injuries will be reduced,” Jack advises.
He also recommends the use of a wooden horse, which he believes is a ‘must’ for players at all levels: “It’s a great way to practice your technique, to learn how to hit the ball and to improve your variety of shots. Whether on the near or off side of the horse, you can hit a forehand, open backhand, or tail backhand, which of course is under the horse’s tail, or an under the neck shot. Your aim is to get those shots smooth and precise – and the wooden horse is a great way to practise.”
But what about schooling your horse for polo? When Jack is working his own horses, he has some very definite objectives: “I aim at keeping the horse nice and calm, but in saying that you’ve still got to try and get all your movements as sharp and precise as possible. It’s a balance between fast and agile, while not upsetting the horse’s mental state. Some horses handle pressure better than others, which is why it’s so important to understand your horse. I also work at getting the horse to engage its hind quarters and to make that feel as natural as possible for the horse. That’s where all the power comes from, so once you’ve got them engaged, then go on to practice your turns and stops. When they’re engaged and they turn left and right smoothly and with balance, the stopping part becomes very easy,” Jack says.
So, with such great advice from a top player, is there any better time to launch your own polo playing career? If you’re interested in knowing more about this exciting game, we’ve included some useful contact details below.
Visit the Australian Polo Federation’s site at www.australianpolo.com.au, or follow them on Facebook www.facebook.com/australianpolofederation/ or Twitter #auspolo. Their phone number: 0459 272 277 and their email firstname.lastname@example.org. Jack can be contacted at email@example.com.