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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Learning polo at Coworth Park — the pukka five-star Ascot retreat where a chukka is part of the service

There is a tendency to categorise polo as a peculiar preoccupation of the British aristocracy —  a class that, in the final throes of death, finds solace luxuriating in such antiquated eccentricities. But it has an illustrious global history. As early as 600 BC, mounted nomads were playing a 100-a-side version of polo in the arenaceous plains of Central Asia in preparation for internecine wars. This makes it, quite possibly, the oldest sport in the world. The British were late to the party: Her Majesty’s soldiers came across polo in India during the colonial era and declared “We must learn the game!”.

The crushing weight of polo’s history stalks me across the fields.The sense of freedom on my horse is exuberant; the concentration the game demands is all-consuming. And I find myself wondering: is this how Persian soldiers felt playing polo to prepare for battle 2,000 years ago?

Once I have hit a few balls across the field at a canter, my confidence starts to rise to match that of my horse. Ebe suggests a small game to work on basic tackling skills. My mother attempts to thwack the ball across the field with her mallet while I try and intercept by leaning in with my own stick.

Just when it threatens to disintegrate into a slightly terrifying brew of hockey and rodeo, Ebe says the lesson is nearing its end. I am reluctant for the session to conclude, and gallop around the field smacking balls until the hour is up. By the time I descend, I have already committed to more lessons.

Polo might conceivably just be as addictive as smoking, I have resolved. But as backache and bankruptcy are the most serious potential side effects, braving that first lesson is certainly worth the risk.

Your First Polo Experience (one hour) from £175 per person (individual) or £150 (group lesson) (01344 876 600;

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