I’m actually enjoying watching my first polo match. Maybe it’s because I have a player giving me live commentary. He’s quite funny. I’m grateful for the company.
“You said the line of the ball establishes Right of Way occurring when a player has the line of the ball on his right?”
“Yes,” he nods.
“So how does it work with left-handed players?” I ask.
“It doesn’t. Left-handed players don’t play polo. They were banned in the 1930s for safety reasons,” he responds.
“That’s discrimination!” I protest. “Are you saying our very own President can’t play polo if he wanted to?”
“Uhuru can play if he likes. He just has to learn how to keep steady control of the horse’s reins with his left hand and hold the mallet with his right hand. No way around it. Prince William has to do it this way – and he’s the future King of England!”
Somehow, I don’t see Uhuru ever wanting to be anywhere near a horse, let alone playing hockey on one! The player goes on to tell me that the match is divided into time periods called chukkas that last a maximum of seven and half minutes. Two mounted umpires control the game, with a midfield referee mediating disagreements.
“Whoooo hooooo!” I’m on my feet again! The Prude has scored again!
“He is on form today! I wonder what his inspiration is?” he asks, giving me side eye.
I take that as rhetorical and ignore the undercurrent. He has already taken me through the basics and is now trying to explain technique to me, something about players using their mallet to block or interfere with the opponent’s swing by hooking the other player’s mallet. He mentions a ride-off, which is used to break an opponent’s concentration, move him off the line of the ball or ruin his shot.
“Why didn’t they do that before the Prude scored?” I ask.
“The prude?” he asks, puzzled.
“Sorry, did I say that out loud? That’s my nickname for him,” I respond, embarrassed.
“Well the ‘prude’,” he says with emphasis on the nickname, “knows that a ride-off is only permissible at a 30-degree angle and at the horse’s shoulder.”
“It’s all about technique…” I say, my voice wandering as I shield my eyes from the sun.
“Yes, that’s about right,” he responds. “And he’s one of the best.”
And on that note, the Prude scores his third goal. I’m back on my feet cheering loudly. It’s quite involuntary and the Prude raises his mallet in my direction to acknowledge my cheers.
“You said you’re a journalist?” the player asks.
“Yes,” I respond, breathless from my screams.
“How interesting,” he says, flicking away a fly. “He hates press.”
A shutter has come down of sorts, and I get the feeling he knows I’m not really here to write a story about polo but that the prude and I are the story.
“Lucky bastard,” he mutters.
I pretend not to have heard him and instead ask why the horses’ tails are braided.
“Free-flowing manes and tails are a danger because they can become entangled with players’ mallets or with the reins as the rider tries to control the horse,” he informs me. “It was pretty cruel in the past. They would amputate the horse’s tail near the base and all that remained was a stump.”
“How awful!” I say, horrified.