A “High Goal Polo Player” is a player who has a handicap of 6 and over (regularly scores 6 goals or more during a single match), with a string of “polo ponies”, usually a minimum of 12 but who often have an average of 30-40 horses, that are fit and eager to play. These players are officially ranked by the WPT, World Polo Tour. This ranking is constantly updated; each player is ranked according to his/her performance, during the course of the year, in the main tournaments around the world. Points are accumulated during the year; prizes are awarded to the each month’s best player and to the overall best player of the year.
A professional polo player, like the well-known Nacho Figueras or the highest-ranked Adolfo Cambiaso, is widely thought of as someone who spends all day with his horses, is always outdoors, travels all over the world, enjoys performing in front of a crowd, mingles with celebrities, has a world-traveled passport, attends parties with royalty, is privileged to VIP entrances to all the best parties, meets other sports-celebrities from every sport imaginable, receives bonuses each time he wins a tournament, is paid 4 figures per game, the hero of all polo enthusiasts (ladies included) and has all the most beautiful women in the world as your fans.
While the daily life of these famous polo players may seem quite grand and privileged, there is a serious amount of hard work required by the player and quite a good portion of his personal time and money are dedicated to maintaining his profession: A Polo-professional will need to have at least a dozen trained polo ponies to have a competitive string, all fit and ready to play. Each high goal game is at least 6 chukkers (time periods); hence, if you play two days in a row then you will have to have at least 12 horses, not counting the ones that may be just a little sore. Some low goal players will have only 2 ponies and will “double up” to play a 4 chukker game. Most top polo professionals will have a horse they keep to work their timing with pre-game, be it one hour or two before games. On non-game days, pros will take out a few ponies and “stick and ball” them to maintain and improve their skills. The exercise-riders take the ponies out in the mornings in sets (they sit on one horse and have 3 ponies aside) to jog them and loosen them up and keep their lungs and oxygen intake at par for competition. The pro will indicate to the riders which horse needs to be ridden individually to either “blow them out” (let them stretch at a full gallop) or “short work them” (many stops, turns and short bursts of speed). These are usually scheduled the day prior to the high goal game. The best polo pros make it a point to watch each pony played at a walk, looking for soreness, heat or inflammation. The front tendons, hocks and stifles are of greatest concern. The pony is walked until he is relaxed and has his head down, enjoys some grazing and gets sun on his back. The pro is responsible for selecting and overseeing the patron’s string. It is customary for the pro of the team to work with the patron on riding and hitting skills, this is usually done on the patron’s private fields and mostly in the afternoons pre-game. The pro will sometimes work on his strength and endurance – stretching sessions in the morning are most important.
Aside from the endless time spent working with the horses, the professional polo player must also follow a very strict exercise and diet regime themselves. Most polo players have very specific diets with carefully allocated amounts of proteins, minerals, teas, supplements, etc. that they must be following at all times. They also often have personal trainers that keep them lifting weights, doing various types of cardio-vascular activities and monitor their weight and health at all times. The weight of a polo player on a horse, and if it changes suddenly, can greatly affects the way the horse performs.
Aside from the grueling physical work and extreme mental focus required, the professional polo player has to dedicate a vast amount of financial resources as well to keep everything functioning: From the cost of feed and stable maintenance which includes the staff such as the grooms, shoe-ers, trainers, the individuals who transport the horses and more, to the high cost of purchasing so many thoroughbred polo ponies.
The polo pony travels from the barn to the polo fields by van, which can carry up to 15 polo ponies. They are tied to the side of the van prior to the games and prepared. They are then “undressed”, walked after they played a chukker and then tied to the van to relax. The professional polo player buys and sells polo-playing horses for more than 6 figures. Polo ponies are bred in Argentina and broke in Argentina and begin their careers in Argentina before heading to America or England to be sold for a considerable sum of money; however, some polo ponies are bred here in America and are American thoroughbreds that were bred for racing and either never raced or just were not cut out to race. The same goes for the Irish thoroughbred, South African thoroughbred or English thoroughbred. It is largely believed that the Kentucky thoroughbreds make the top polo ponies. Some, however, prefer playing the fillies since they are less muscled and looser, and just more “catty”, which is when a horse is lighter on their front feet and more “scrappy”. The filly polo pony is less timid and much more aggressive in the melees than their male counterparts. On the whole, a high goal polo pony should be short backed, athletic, light in the front feet, strong and wide in the hind, nice withers and short cannons with well-defined tendons. Their hind leg muscles, or “caskins”, should be well muscled and strong and their head low with a well-balanced neck. Their throat should be wide with a nice passage for airway.
The life of a high goal polo player is full of extremes – much glory, much beauty and also at times defeat and loss. While most of the top players were dedicated to riding and playing from a very young age, retirement can come much earlier than in many other careers, allowing for more time to spend with their families and loved ones as often there is not much time left over for them during an active career. It is truly the “Sport of Kings” with all of its beauty, bravery and majesty. Even though it is an extremely dangerous sport, considered the second most dangerous sport in the world, it is said there is no other lifestyle quite as glorious.
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