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Major Hugh Dawnay: Acclaimed polo coach and writer


Major Hugh Dawnay was a passionate horseman who followed family tradition by serving in the army and then devoting himself to polo, becoming an internationally recognised expert.

Devoted to horses in general and polo in particular, he promoted the sport by establishing a coaching school in Ireland, as well as conducting classes in Florida and Mexico.

The author of two books which became standard texts, he achieved fame with his coaching all over the world. A successful amateur jockey in his youth, he rode with success at courses such as Cheltenham and Aintree. He also followed a family tradition when he became Master of Foxhounds with the Waterford Hunt in 1975.

He was born in 1932 at Lucknow in India, where his father was stationed, General Sir David Dawnay of the 10th Hussars regiment, an Olympic polo player who won a silver medal at the 1936 Olympics. His mother was Lady Katharine Nora de la Poer Beresford. Sir David had a distinguished military career which included three years as commandant of Sandhurst. He went on to become clerk of the course at Ascot, which gave Hugh the opportunity to use the stabling there.

Hugh Dawnay was educated at Stonehouse School, which was evacuated to Yorkshire during the Second World War, then at Eton and Sandhurst. He served for 21 years in the 10th Hussars which through amalgamation had become the Royal Hussars by the time he retired as major in 1971. He served in Germany, Jordan and Aden during a career in which he held a number of commands.

He had begun his polo career at Sandhurst, reaching a three-goal handicap which he maintained until he was over 60. He went on to captain his regimental team and the army polo team. He was about to leave the army when he was offered command of an armoured-car squadron with the Army of Occupation of the Rhine. He accepted: "You don't decline a command to pursue your polo," he explained. "But in hindsight it was all for the best." This was because in Germany he discovered a gift for coaching, harnessing army instruction techniques first with the fledgling Dusseldorf Polo Club, then with Hamburg.

After leaving the army he returned to his 500-acre dairy farm near Waterford in the Irish Republic. He had inherited the estate from his grandmother, a sister of the former Marquis of Waterford, who returned to Ireland when her husband was killed in 1914 at the Battle of Ypres.

At Waterford, Dawnay established the first formal polo school, based on a coaching system he had developed in the army. For 30 years he staged individual and group clinics on tactics, practice and pony schooling, supplying mounts for his pupils. For many years he also coached at the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Florida, and at a Mexican resort, Costa Careyes. Over the years he provided coaching in more than 30 countries.

He once recalled: "When I started there was virtually no coaching in polo, though it was there in other equestrian sports. Today it is widely available but sadly a large proportion of players don't take advantage of it. In my experience most patrons believe a good player will make a good coach. Obviously certain players bear this out, but on the whole someone watching from the sidelines can see much more than anyone playing with a team.

"Even very good players make mistakes without realising it so it's to a team's advantage if they are identified. Equally, when praise is merited, a good player should be told so by someone whose judgment he respects."

He wrote two definitive books, Polo Vision and Playmaker Polo. The latter, containing 350 pages on the finer points of the game, was described as the best structured and most complete book written on the sport.

In 1971 he married Maria Ines Cermesoni, whom he met in Buenos Aires while playing polo in Argentina in 1970. He is survived by her and by their two sons, David and Sebastian as well as his brother Peter, his grandchildren Lucia and Nicholas, his daughters-in-law Aisha and Louisa and other relatives.

Hugh Dawnay, polo player and coach: born 17 December 1932; married 1971 Maria Ines Cermesoni (two sons); died 28 May 2012.