Sun | Jun 16, 2019

'Polo school': training ground for next generation

Published:Saturday | April 6, 2013 | 12:00 AM
AISK (in yellow) and Hillel (in blue and white) assembling for the Inter-School Polo Cup on March 13, 2013.-Contributed
Polo professional Hamish Wates (centre) hands over the prize for most successful polo player of the tournament to Savannah Hussey(fourth right), while other members of the AISK team look on. They are (from left): Alejandro Crowther, Daniel Crowther, coach Leslie Masterton Fong Yee, Reuben Hussey, Katharina Hauk and Viktoria Loshusan.
Tournament organisers Paul and Heidi Lalor.
AISK coach Leslie Masterton Fong Yee (left) and Daniel Crowther.

On a typical Sunday afternoon at the Kingston Polo Club, Caymanas Estates, young and old have fun watching a game of polo, which is becoming increasingly popular among youngsters.

What comes to mind when you hear the words 'equestrian polo'? Sipping champagne with the rich and famous!

True, top-of-the-line tournaments certainly include the champagne as well, but that is not what polo is all about.

Polo is a very old sport; the first recorded polo tournament was in 600 BC when the Turkomans beat the Persians in a public match. It is a true team sport, like football; everybody on a team plays an important role.

Polo teaches love and respect for animals, and it requires utmost discipline from the rider. After all, you are in charge of a 1000-pound powerful, fast horse that you need to direct. Above all, polo is a lot of fun that creates friendships all over the world. It is truly an international sport, and there are very few countries in the world where it is not played.

fostering team building

A polo match lasts about one and one-half hours and is divided into six timed periods called chukkas.

Each team has four members. Often you see experienced players taking young players under their wings, letting them play a chukka or two with an experienced team so they will learn.

The very little ones are sitting proudly on the horses after the match, led around by the grooms and getting the feel for being on a horse. So fostering team building, camaraderie, love and respect for animals, and discipline makes polo an ideal sport for young persons. And exactly that inspired the Kingston Polo Club to open the 'polo school' in 2011.

With Heidi Lalor's relentless enthusiasm and hard work, students started to join the polo school to get a taste of the game.

Generous members at Kingston Polo Club, who have the sport and its continuity at heart, are loaning their ponies to the polo school.

Highly qualified coaches such as Lesley Fong Yee, one of the world's top female players, the resident Argentinean five-goal polo player Jorge Donovan and Mark Wates, one of the top-ranked local players, teach students fairness, humility, and the skills to be a good player.

The programme has been very successful.

Last week, the Polo Inter-School Challenge Cup was played for the second time between Hillel Academy and American International School of Kingston (AISK), which emerged winners.

But it was not all about winning; one could feel and see the camaraderie between Hillel and AISK players in true polo spirit. All players aimed to be competitive in a dignified way. Both teams acknowledged each other, showing true sportsmanship.

This is the only Inter-School Polo tournament in the Caribbean. Its establishment has been duly noticed by United Kingdom (UK) and North American universities.

"We are trying to get more schools involved, but this will take time," said Fong Yee.

"The Dennis Lalor-led Jamaica Polo Association and the Kingston Polo Club have gone that extra mile to encourage, facilitate and promote young players. This has had a positive effect in recent years and I, for one, given my wealth of experience playing polo in many countries, is more than keen to pass on all the technical aspects of the game to the young ones," she added.

Donovan, who assists at the polo school as one of instructors and also coaches Hillel, had this to say:

"I find the job of teaching the youngsters enlightening and fulfilling. Heidi Lalor is doing a fantastic job as head of the polo school, which caters to youngsters whose age ranges from nine to 17.

"Naturally, the activities are at a peak during the summer for obvious reasons, but I enjoy interacting with the youngsters at the initial stages of their development and see them blossom into accomplished players such as Jason Wates, Hamish Wates, Sam Wates, Rachel Turner, Michael Turner, Adam Laing, Luke Clarke and Jason Willetts over the years."

Significantly, Yale has made contact and expressed a desire to possibly organise games with the Jamaican junior players. Similarly, UK universities would like to set up relations.

What most people do not know is that just like overseas universities are looking for runners and football players, they are also looking for polo players for their university teams via scholarships.

This should encourage students from other schools to take up polo. Up to now, traditional high schools in Jamaica showed little interest in joining the polo school. But with this new interest from abroad in our young polo players, things are bound to change.

NB: Gleaner Writer Orville Clarke contributed to this article