Polo is a sport that demands a lot from your horse. Polo is about speed, quick turn on the hindquarter and fast stops, it’s essential that your horse is well balanced, fit, flexible and strong. Try these training tips told by polo players Johan Du Plooy and Janna Strehlau.
Invest in a simple snaffle. This keeps the horse’s mouth sensitive and active. While polo is ridden with all reins in one hand, it is often better to ride with the reins in both hands.
Step 1: Warm up
Be sure to warm your horse by 10 minutes or more of forward moving walking to get the muscles warm and stretched.
Step 2: Responsiveness
Start off in a light, active trot in a big circle, encouraging your horse to activate his hindquarters. You will be able to see if your pony respects your legs and moves away from leg pressure. It’s a good exercise for teaching responsiveness to the leg aids.
Step 3: Balance, rhythm and flexibility
Slowly make your circle smaller while keeping your horse in an active, controlled trot. This encourages him to stay balanced, in rhythm and not to rush. Bending through the body and not just the neck should occur. You can begin to ask for contact through the reins at this point.
Step 4: The importance of a good canter
After warming up, it’s important to work in a canter as the horse will usually only canter or gallop in a polo game. A controlled canter should be in a 15m circle for three rounds and then sped up in a straight line for 20m or more. Slow down, but stay in canter, and circle again, ensuring that the horse is stepping under nicely with his hindquarters and bending through the body, then push forward into a faster straight line again.
Step 5: Sharp turns
Using objects like tyres to canter around can be helpful, especially for a young or green horse. Put the items 20 to 30m apart and canter big circles around one item, then speed up straight to the tyre. After a few minutes, make the circles smaller and smaller around the item, ensuring that the pony is bending well. Lean back in your seat.
Step 6: Flying changes
Learning the flying change is very useful for polo. Start with a 20m circle and slowly make it smaller. Ride in a figure of eight, encouraging a flying change at the cross point.
Step 7: Hillwork
Find a slight slope and canter slowly downhill, stop at the bottom and walk backwards for three steps and then turn as quickly as possible.
First try a small circle and progress to turning on both hind legs. Canter uphill again. This strengthens the hindquarters tremendously, but always ensure the horse is properly warmed up and fit enough to handle the exercise.
Step 8: Flexibility
Stand on one side of the horse and hold his withers with one hand, and muzzle or halter with the other. Bend his neck gently around. Hold for five seconds then release. Repeat four times on each side. If you do this twice a day, you will notice a huge improvement.
Step 9: Cool down
Don’t forget to always cool down your pony with a few minutes of walking on a long loose rein. Hose down all 4 legs with cold water and, if it’s very hot, hose the pony down completely.
Extracted from HQ Magazine, Polo Training Tips, 2021. https://hqmagazine.co.za/polo-training-tips/.