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Why Polo is One of the Hardest Sports On the Planet

There is a debate raging about what is the world's hardest sport, with the top contender being polo, considered among the most difficult sports to play proficiently.

By Raja Izz

Picture this: you are on an expanse of green grass nine times the size of a football field. Beneath you an athletic thoroughbred stands poised, ready to leap into a gallop at your signal. Two sets of reins are threaded through your left hand, while your right grips four feet of specially made bamboo. At the umpire’s (referee) whistle, you and seven other riders take off after a white plastic ball, hurdling at almost 40 mph towards goal.

There is a debate raging about what is the world's hardest sport, with the top contender being polo, considered among the most difficult sports to play proficiently.

Many of today's most popular sports have a huge barrier to entry, the time and commitment that is required to become proficient enough to play the game.

In traditional field ball games such as soccer, football and baseball, a basic proficiency is kicking, catching and throwing are all that is required to go out and play.

However, this is not true for gentleman sports like polo. You cannot take a few horse-riding lessons and go out and play chukkas where you are expected to hit and score in 3 1/2 - 7 minutes. Normally, it take years of practice to become minimally proficient. To put things into perspective, Malaysian SEA Games Polo player medalist like Rashid Hasnan started riding at the age of 7.

The risk factors involved and the complexities of the game are what fascinates me most. For example, in your left hand you have to control the wild animal below you, and in your right hand you have to control the mallet and have a very calm swing, so in a sense you have to be very aggressive and calm at the same time. Unlike any other sport where you have complete control over where you want to be, or go, commanding a wild animal to do what you want it to do is in itself very difficult. Now imagine doing that with one hand, and at the same time, trying to hit a ball with a mallet in your other hand. There’s so many things going on, and you really have to multitask and have perfect control of not only your own body, but also the horse a well. It’s such a complex sport and the challenge of having that kind of control is also what I love about Polo.

HRH Prince Abdul Mateen

HRH Prince Abdul Mateen (Picture: @tmski)

In my experience, Polo has the highest barrier to entry of any of the popular sports, with a minimum 2 horses are required for chukkas (as much as 4 horses are required for the polo match). Even a minimal proficiency in polo requires a sound foundation in horsemanship and amazing hand-eye coordination. It can take years of practice before you are even ready to begin playing Polo.

First, you must master English-style riding on a small pony (usually between 13.5 to 15 hands), and learn to stand in the stirrups while spinning on a dime. It's far harder to ride a smaller horse than a large saddle horse, and polo ponies are trained like reining horses with incredible ability to change directions quickly.

A polo strike is also incredibly challenging. You must start your backswing long before you approach the ball, and it you miss the timing it's impossible to strike a clean shot.

Second, polo should come with a health warning. Not because it is one of the most dangerous sports on the planet, with horses galloping at speeds of up to 35mph and with players and horses crashing into you, “hooking” your stick – a move to prevent you from hitting the ball by blocking your swing with their stick – and doing everything they can to prevent you scoring a goal. But because, on a par with the purest opium, polo is highly addictive!

Third, polo require absolute focus. There are plays and moves you must make within a split second using anticipation and skill as your tools. You must have your wits about you and 100 per cent focus for at least an hour. You have to be fit and healthy. You can’t lead a playboy lifestyle. You won’t survive five minutes if you roll out of a nightclub at 6am on a match day.

From left to right: Taman Ekuestrian Putrajaya, The Royal Selangor Polo Club

Where to begin

There are several polo clubs around the country for those of you interested in taking up the sport. Royal Selangor Polo Club or Taman Ekuestrian Putrajaya are easily within reach for anyone living in the Klang Valley. There you will be provided with horses for hire at excellent rates, expert training as well as all the equipment you will need to begin.

Now, are you ready to take on polo?

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