Four reins in my left hand, polo stick in my right (bouncing uncomfortably in the crook of my neck), I cantered the length of the pitch. I had been tasked with tapping the ball from one end to the other, but the horse ended up kicking the ball more times than I hit it. It was about 50:50 whether I made contact with the ball, and 50:50 again as to whether it moved more than a metre. After five minutes, the neat circular swing I practiced at the start had become dangerously wobbly and lasso-like. As a result, my horse started dodging left when I tried to hit the ball - an unhelpful but understandable instinct for self-preservation.
I was followed by my instructor, the Doctor, a former surgeon and polo fanatic who founded the polo club the year I was born. An exemplar of polo prowess, he scooped up the ball from wherever it ended up after my botched shots, showing off a wide array of sharp 360° swings that sliced the ball from under the horse's neck, or cut it from beside the hind legs. He shouted encouragement and instructions after each of my wild swipes: 'You have to look at the ball!', 'Hit the ball don't just touch it!', and after every shot he made, the ball appeared just ahead of me. While very convenient placement, it was unnerving when a hard ball rocketed past at body level. After one hit my horse squarely on the behind, I began to flinch every time I heard the clunk of his stick.
We did one run of the pitch at full speed, during which I completely lost control of both stick and horse. Unable to turn or stop, I didn't even make a convincing run to the goal, but went straight past it on the far right. Just a small taster of the terrifying pace of polo. I was also given an introduction on how to fight for the ball by 'riding off' the opposing player. The Doctor demonstrated by barging his horse up against mine and hooking his knee in front of my saddle. My horse, something of a polo veteran, sportingly shouldered up against the opposition for a while, but I was all too keen to retreat and give way!
After lesson #1, I was invited to join in a baby chukka of two against one on the polo pitch. Unable to hit the ball, let alone receive or aim a pass, I just galloped in circles and tried to look busy. I vaguely followed the instructions barked by my teammate, but in general, did my best to avoid going anywhere near the ball. Unfortunately, my horse was much more competitive; on more than one occasion, she skid into a sharp 180° turn and sped after the ball, despite the reluctance of her passenger. The experience took me back to my school days and haplessly running around the lacrosse pitch. At least this time there was a horse underneath me!
The lessons have offered a glimpse into what a real game of polo would be like: fast and ferocious, demanding extraordinary control of stick, ball and horse... Needless to say, it's not the sort of sport I will excel in!