Games people play

Pandora Melly learns about communicating with horses at high speed
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Julian Hipwood, 51, polo player and coach

At school I was very keen on athletics. I ran, and played football for my county, but I eventually chose polo, because the old knees and ankles were a bit the worse for wear after playing semi-professionally for Bristol Rovers.

I learned to play with the Pony Club in about 1963, when Pony Club polo was first introduced. Polo really is the most wonderful game, and it's not just about hitting the ball. There's the communication with the horse, the air around you and the speed at which you're travelling.

Some people have criticised me for playing faster than the game really is. The majority of my ponies are thoroughbreds: they do go some, which probably explains it. But even in my football days, I was never an individualist, always a team player.

I can understand why businessmen like playing polo. It's an escape from their office worries. There's the excitement; the look in their eyes that says, "My God, this is incredible!" even if they haven't done anything. They get to the first stage and they're hooked.

Maybe they haven't even hit the ball, but it's the cantering around, the riding-off, the hooking of the stick. One doesn't actually have to be a high-goal or top-rated player to enjoy this game.

As a coach, I never stop learning. Sometimes I realise I'm teaching something that I've actually just learnt myself. I especially like beginners. You see the smiles on their faces after they've played probably a pathetic chukka, but it's a real thrill to see how much they've enjoyed even such a minor aspect of the game.

There's also the thrill of danger. You have to be alert, because you can get hurt if you're not doing the right thing. The players use the old Florida saying: "Arrive alive".

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