Polo is a sport that looks fun not easy. There’s considerable finesse that goes into thwacking a ball at great length from atop a galloping horse. And Ebe Sievwright, who runs the Guards Polo Academy at Coworth Park in Ascot, is possibly the best-placed in Britain to teach you that finesse. I have ridden horses since I was about eight. Throughout my teen years I often rode three or four times a day. I trained relentlessly, was highly focused and loved nothing more. But I rode show jumpers. I had never played a day of polo in my life, and when I first hopped onto a polo pony (not at Coworth Park but in Spain) the furthest the ball ever moved was when my pony inadvertently kicked it with his hooves. Then I met Sievwright. His first suggestion was that I go no where near a horse, and instead practice my swing on the lawn. After a few red-faced misses, I began to understand the mechanics and was expertly instructed by Sievwright that success had nothing to do with strength or force; the best hits were soft, fluid and straightforward. When I finally mounted, I played the best game of my life.
Coworth Park impresses before you’ve even reached the main doors. An hour from London, here it is not uncommon to find Princes William and Harry sharpening their polo skills on the lawn. Or you might see well-dressed grooms leading herds of glossy-haired ponies across the property, only to later discover those ponies belonged to far-flung Saudi princesses, or world-ranked players.
Royalty runs deep here; it was Her Majesty The Queen who first suggested using Smith’s Lawn as a polo ground at Guards Polo. That was as far back as the 50s’ – far before Dorchester Collection had set its sights on converting this butter-coloured Georgian home into an elegant 70-bedroom hotel (that wouldn’t happen until 2010). Today, it’s so much more than a house or a hotel, but a world-class polo grounds playing host to more than 600 matches each season, from late April to mid-September.
The equestrian theme runs deep here. It’s a motif found in everything from the horse-shoe hooks on room walls, to horse-themed art, to the literal transformation of the former stables into what is now a block of luxury rooms – fitted with every modern amenity from heated floors to copper roll-top tubs. Elsewhere at Coworth’s brasserie-style Barn restaurant, it would be entirely in vogue to momentarily tie your horse up outside while nipping in for a quick bite. And if leaving a tethered friend is a little too John Wayne, this flagship restaurant has been designed with floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can watch a match unfold as you cut into your battered cod and triple-cooked chips.
Winston Churchill’s belief that “No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle” is used across the property’s marketing strategy, and here – just as is the case with Coworth Park itself – history speaks the strongest.
Coworth Park: 01344 876600; www.dorchestercollection.com. Doubles from £282