Pony up: Polo for Beginners in Buenos Aires

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Polo class

Inger at her beginner polo class.

Living in the capital, it is sometimes easy to forget that Argentina is not only about the Buenos Aires night life, tango, Malbec, great meat and empanadas. Yes, you will say, I know it is about estancias, nature and gauchos too.

But did you know that it is also has over a hundred years of polo tradition? That it is home to the world’s best polo players? That you can learn to play polo even if you never have ridden a horse before?

When I arrived in Argentina two years ago, I didn’t really know anything about polo. I vaguely imagined that it was a typical sport for the rich, who would sit on horses, wearing Polo Ralph Lauren and wave sticks around. And anyway, I had never even sat on a horse since I saw my little brother at the tender age of six fall off a pony into a huge pile of horse manure. Neither my brother nor I ever wanted to come near a horse again for at least 30 years and I didn’t think that would ever change.

Then, about six months ago, my husband Dan was invited to a polo match. He came, he saw and was sold. “I would love to try it, one day,” he said more than once with his eyes going all dreamy. He scoured the internet for nearby polo ranches and he struck gold at once. And so, one beautiful Saturday morning we set off for La Manea, 40 kilometers from Buenos Aires.

Dan had his first polo lesson, and was instantly hooked. It is a fast game, and requires horsemanship as well as hand-to-eye coordination and team spirit. I looked on from the side, slightly worried and remembering my 30 year long fear of horses and other big beasts. Our instructor, Sebastian, seemed to sense my nervousness and got me a lovely tame little mare. She was very gentle and obedient and I quickly got rid of my nerves and started enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. As I had no previous riding experience, I spent the first two classes learning basic riding skills.

The next time, however, Sebastian assured with me with appealing gaucho logic that the best and most natural way to learn riding was through playing polo. I was handed a mallet and tried hitting the ball. The horse was so well trained it followed the ball on its own accord. And most amazingly, I actually started riding better when I was focusing on the “bocha” instead of my (lacking) riding skills. I found that Sebastian was a very good instructor who encourages, yet never pushes people beyond their abilities.

Polo lessons have now become an important part of our weekends. Dan has started to join in at the practice games and even the odd tournament, and I happily canter about swinging my mallet like a pro. Afterwards we hang around for a picnic or some mate and just enjoy being in the country.

polo kid

Casper, 3, on his first polo pony.

Our children Rapha, 5, and Casper, 3, also have a lovely time, playing with other children there and enjoying greater freedom than they would ever have in hectic Buenos Aires.

Classes start at around $100 pesos per hour, which includes the horse and a private or semi-private (maximum 2 people) class. This is a lot cheaper than most of the big polo ranches, and a bargain if you consider the quality of the horses and classes. Classes are usually in Spanish, but Sebastian also speaks some English.

More information

Tel: 011.15.4036.1093
www.lamaneapolo.com

Get there:
Take 9 de Julio and follow the exit towards Ezeiza. At km 26 take the exit. Continue to km 41 (Tristan Suarez) and take a right hand turn when you get to the crossing onto the “Camino Real”. Once you are past the tiny police station, take a left hand turn and follow the road for about 2 more minutes until you reach La Manea.

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