Polo: Not just for Jack Wills

Michael Ostheimer 21 February 2008

The combination of horses and long sticks points towards two main activities: jousting or polo. The former is likely to involve armour hire and being taken to court by the family of your opponent, the latter a reasonably privileged background and a fair few riding lessons as a child.

The sport’s link to wealth is not particularly well hidden by the varsity match sponsorship from Jack Wills. It’s not exactly Primark, but if Jack’s going to sponsor anything I think he’s picked the right market. The approach is, perhaps, best summed up by Ascot Park Polo Club’s advertising drive claiming: “Ascot Park offers a wealth of sponsorship opportunities.” I suspect they chose their words carefully. I also suspect they’re right.

Cambridge has done itself proud, and the university club owns and maintains six horses for use by its members. Lessons cost around £16 for approximately an hour and a half’s tuition, which – as their website points out – is actually pretty good going considering what’s involved. I reckon I look pretty good on a horse; and would consider playing if it wasn’t for the fact that as soon as the horse starts moving the relationship between myself and the animal somewhat resembles the Cold War. We both have fundamentally different ideas about where we should be heading and are both pretty scared, but like to pretend we can’t hear each other and as a result aren’t really prepared to negotiate.

One thing I would like to see, aside from bicycle jousting, would be a Bicycle Polo Club in Cambridge. I find it difficult to believe that Halfords would refuse to sponsor such a team; even Sainsbury’s might get involved if players promised to have an orange Sainsbury’s bag full of shopping on each side of the handlebars throughout matches. With the amount of bikes in the city we’re surely overqualified to have a team – it’d be cheap to compete and most members of the university must be pretty well versed in collisions by now. Riding through Market Square on a Saturday would probably qualify as advanced training: tourists present a far more difficult challenge than any drills I can think up. Well that’s not quite true, but I don’t think CUSU would be prepared to fund flame-throwers. Or tanks.

The horse-mounted sport itself is one of the most magnificent of all sports to watch. There is an air of nobility which I think deserves respect, and the dedication it takes to obtain the skills required to play at a high level must be absolutely phenomenal. As for those of us with maintenance loans, Bicycle Polo provides the obvious alternative.

Starting a team could be a challenge, but I reckon the odds are in your favour if you take your bike to hockey practice and see if they’ll let you play whilst riding. Next thing you know, you’ll be in the national championships. Or at least Addenbrooke’s.

Michael Ostheimer