Much has changed in the modern game of polo since a certain John Watson returned from India in 1884 and proceeded to teach players how to combine and play for their sides instead of for themselves. Prior to his arrival on the scene the method of play was for one man on each side to be goalkeeper and for the others to play forward in a heap, hitting the ball as often as they could and keeping the ball to themselves. Watson introduced the now familiar 'riding off' and the positional play still used today. The game of polo was exported to America and later Argentina, their influence adding to and improving the game to the one we all know. We think that John Watson would have approved of Arena Polo and would be an avid supporter of Polo Wicklow..
The first recorded polo match played in Ireland was in Co. Carlow, in 1872, with the All Ireland Polo Club (Dublin) being founded later, in 1874. One hundred and twenty one years on, the first Arena Polo match was played in Ireland in Co. Wicklow, in 1993, and the same year Polo Wicklow with its two grass fields and full sized arena became the only facility offering both grass polo and arena polo for twelve months of the year. Advantageously positioned on the East Coast of Ireland 30 miles south of Dublin, the influence from the Gulf Stream ensures that the area has no extremes of weather, polo has only been cancelled once in twelve seasons due to snow. The arena surface and the unique drainage system all contribute to continuity and reliability of play. We have found that influence of the Guinness however, and the great hunting with the South County's can play its part in the cancellation of a fixture, as it did when the Dutch team visited Ireland. They all bought a piece of the Irish soil during the chase and arrived many hours too late, a little disorientated and too exhausted to play that evening, their match was rescheduled for Sunday and St. Patrick's Day . This match was captured on canvas by travelling American artist Lee Erickson who spent a month painting the polo scene in Wicklow.
At the end of the grass season the polo addicts transfer immediately to the arena season. The management of the ponies has changed due to the 'twelve months' season, firstly the Professional player and the grooms have a permanent job and the care of the ponies is continuous. We have six Argentine grooms working for us and keeping the horses in top condition throughout the year. Following the system of care pioneered in America our ponies have regular short breaks during the year, they do not loose condition and there is no need for a rigorous fitness program when brought back in to work. All the visiting players have commented on the quality, ability and well being of the horses now in their twelfth year of this regime.
There is no doubt that the Arena is the best place to get a young horse or a horse with bad grass polo habits corrected, we also have seen that the old myth, that any horse will do for the arena, is not correct. At the Arena International in Berkshire the best horses, combined with the best team play made the difference. Again and again we see in the matches that the horse power makes all the difference to the result and this means that the best horses must also belong in Arena Polo.
This year we introduced the rule of continuous play after a ball has been scored, which makes the cam much more exciting for not only the players but also the spectators. A fair amount of spectator power was influential in these decisions as the spectators role in Polo Wicklow is vital and they too are entitled to enjoy the game as much as the players. The chukka length is reduced to 6 and a half minutes to take into account the continual play. In general it is most important to ensure that the fast flow of Arena Polo which makes the game so special to play and exciting to watch is preserved and the game is played with a minimum of interruptions.
Polo Wicklow is pleased to have an ever willing umpire in Sandra Giles, in her role of adjudicator she has the respect of all the players, even those who have been sent off the field of play know it was for a good reason! Stricter umpiring this year has helped to make the game safer and once the players became used to the disadvantage of severe penalties for infringements or dangerous play, the standard of good and more careful play was evident. New players had guidelines from the first day and easily slotted into games. Due to the speed and the lack of 'cooling off' periods in the chukka (achieved in grass polo with the ball out periods and the throw in from the centre) it became imperative to have no discussions or queries at all with the umpires during the match, this has been rigorously enforced. It goes without saying that many an extra chukka was played out in the club house where the umpire was unable to enforce a penalty for an opinion!