The power of the horse as an international language is one of the main ethos’ behind British Polo Day, as Gareth A Davies finds out.
There’s so much more to the young, vibrant British company on a tour of the world than nestling alongside the 12 Royal families, 100 independent billionaires, and influential global business entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Vinod Kumar and Jim Rogers, who have attended the company’s 40 or so events carried across five continents.
Ed Olver and Tom Hudson, old university pals and both ex-British Army officers, founded British Polo Day in 2011 as a global polo network, whose metier involves showcasing bespoke British craftsmanship and heritage on a platform across emerging markets in sport and business.
It is both cleverly constructed and thoughtfully managed.
The third figure in the triumvirate, in a board room which can be anywhere on a flight between countries to a picnic blanket beside a polo lawn, in what Olver fondly refers to as “an interlocking knuckle”, is Ben Vestey.
The toweringly tall Vestey has polo in his DNA, having played the sport at the very highest level, and hailing from a polo dynasty which includes his father, the Hon Mark Vestey, who was once chairman of the Hurlingham Polo Association, the sport’s governing body in England.
To complete the union of the trinity, Vestey and Hudson just happen to be old Etonians from the same era.
But British Polo Day is much more about modern invention than old school ties.
Last weekend, British Polo Day marked the start of its 2015 Global Series with the return of British Polo Day Abu Dhabi.
Over 200 VIPs – many of them with more double barrels than one of the company’s sponsors Holland & Holland – enjoyed an evening of fine polo with a guest list which included Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, who is the first female Minister in the United Arab Emirates, His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Falah Al Nahyan, owner of the Ghantoot Polo and Racing Club, the British Ambassador to the UAE, Philip Parham, CMG, and Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Marc de Panafieu and his wife Princess Alexandra Cantacuzene-Speransky.
The formality was a veneer, in a sense. It was about cordiality, and union around polo and philanthropy. Name, for example, a company which has given more to charity than it makes in profit in the first year of its existence ?
The Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur and his father, His Highness the Maharaja Narendra Singh of Jaipur, were also there, the teenage Maharaja displaying for the British Exiles team that even at 16, he has all the skills of a modern horseman, who will one day mix it with polo’s leading professionals.
The start of the 2015 Global Series, which will visit nine countries in as many months, returned to the Emirate which had been the catalyst for the birth of what has become an empirical venture.
Olver, in 2009, had ventured to Abu Dhabi, then as a military officer, to oversee work with the 50 horses from the Household Cavalry display team.
Olver, now 34, recognised the “power of the horse as an international language” in the course of that visit, and explained that in his mind, “the dream of ‘British Polo Day’ was germinated.”
With a perspicacity for the tiniest detail, and with a gregariousness which is rarely switched off, Olver’s brainchild has simply grown from strength to strength, country to country, year by year. In Vestey and Hudson, they are three very different, yet utterly united men setting sail like modern-day adventurers.
Witnessing three days of the Abu Dhabi event was self-evident that it is run with military precision, yet with a caring, almost colonising zeal. Behind them, moreover, they have hired a group of multilingual, like-minded young graduates who share the zeal for global travel, quintessential British values, and of course, polo.
The first event of this year’s series, held at Ghantoot Racing & Polo Club raised £35,000 for Women and Health Alliance (WAHA) and Help for Heroes.
With two of Britain’s renowned polo professionals George Meyrick and Jamie Morrison representing the British Exiles, alongside BPD veteran Stuart Wrigley, on one of only three floodlit pitches in the world, an evening of pretty decent polo was played out in front of newbies and connoisseurs in an ambience of fundraising and fine dining.
Champagne Taittinger, Harrods, Hackett, Jaeger Le-Coultre are sponsors popping up ubiquitously for British Polo Day, but the sporting hors-d’oeuvres included a traditional game of camel polo, followed by Brompton Bicycle Polo.
The Hackett Camel Polo Trophy was intriguing, the gentle creatures, mounted in tandem by rider and mallet wielder, gracefully going about their business.
It is slow, absorbing, and showed over and again that camels are terribly, and so easily, distracted. Though they did appear to have the narcissistic desire to raise neck, limbs, and humps to the max in front of the packed seats outside the clubhouse.
With all respect to bicycle polo, and any Brompton figure of note in the sport, apologies in advance for this observer’s note that the most entertaining aspects of the match were the collisions. More of those, please …
The highlight of the evening’s polo, naturally, was the British Polo Day Plate, presented by Land Rover.
In a closely-contested battle between The British Exiles and Ghantoot Polo Team, the Exiles had a strong start with a surprise two goals in the opening minutes of the game, but the Zavaleta brothers for Ghantoot soon returned fire to bring the home side back to a 4-2 half-time lead.
The Exiles, under-mounted in pony power, were unable to turn the game around and the home team, once again, had their name etched on the bespoke trophy by British Silverware, with a 9-6 ½ victory.
Royal Salute’s ‘Most Valuable Player’ went to George Meyrick; the Holland & Holland ‘Shot of The Day’ was awarded to Ghantoot’s Abdullah bin Desmal and ‘Best Playing Pony’ – sponsored and presented by Jaeger-LeCoultre, the Official Timekeeper for British Polo Day – went to Despreciada, ridden by Clemente Zavaleta of Ghantoot Polo Team.
“These guys do a fantastic job and I try to support it as much as possible,” Morrison, who runs the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club, told The Telegraph.
“They’re taking British polo around the world and they’re doing their best. People like George are getting opportunities and sponsorship off the back of it.
“At the moment it’s looking like a really good thing. Hopefully they can grow with the HPA and we can all benefit. That’s what we want.”
While Hudson, co-founder of British Polo Day explained that the company was “extremely proud to raise significant amounts for two incredibly worthy causes”, Philip Parham CMG, who started his post as British Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates in 2014, said that British Polo Day “promotes some iconic British brands and promotes a certain sense of style, class and creativity, and something a bit different. That distinguishes us from the rest.”
“There was a polo match here in November that Prince Harry was involved in. That was a great event as well. Like this event, it raised money for really good charities. Polo, along with other equestrian sports, exemplifies the strong links between British and Emirati heritage past, present and – I am sure – future.”
This group clearly belongs to the future. Or it certainly looks that way.
This Friday (March 27) will mark the second leg of British Polo Day’s UAE Tour – British Polo Day Dubai. It will be hosted by the Habtoor Family at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club. It was the birthplace of British Polo Day and the setting for its very first event in 2009.