BY GILLIAN Whyte

ON a wonderful sunny Saturday morning at the beginning of August, myself and four friends went for a polo lesson in the grounds of the very fabulous Tyrella House, where Eventing Ireland run competitions at the home of the Corbetts and where Seahorse Polo and the Northern Ireland polo team is based.HEADING FOR HOME: Returning across the polo field, before reluctantly dismounting. (FW35-514NN)

This is an incredible venue, where a County Down beach with golden white sand runs across Dundrum Bay and Newcastle towards the Mourne mountains, an area that was inspiration for CS Lewis’s Narnia.

We met our instructors, Mary and Jamie, with great anticipation that we would ‘pass’ the temperature test as is required in the new ‘normal’! After pulling a few passport-style faces, whilst our temperatures were taken, we all passed with a few laughs at our grimaces and a sigh of relief.

Then it was on to the first part of our lesson, which was to practice on the ground with our sticks, including how to hold them correctly and hitting the ball with the right technique forwards and also backhanded and what stance we were to hold. We were also shown defence moves and told the rules. After about 10-15 minutes of this, we were all feeling quite confident.

We were taken to our beautifully presented polo ponies, which were already tacked up and ready to mount. They were all between 15 hands and 15.3hh and either Thoroughbred or Criollo and all gleamed in the perfect sun.

My mount, a Thoroughbred bay mare ‘Teen’, was from New Zealand and I was informed she was around the same value as a new Porsche, maybe more! On we got and, after being shown how to hold the two sets of reins correctly in our left hand, we were to practice a few paces, getting used to neck reining and using our seats and legs correctly. It was similar to western riding.

We then had a competition of tag and it got quite fast, competitive and there were a few screams, laughs and possibly the odd swear word. This was such fun and after this we were all well warmed up and all had a bit of a sweat in the near midday hot sun.

After this, we were given a longer heavier stick than the one used during ground practice. With it again came instruction from Mary and Jamie on how to hold and hit the ball. We had a practice for a while before we split into two groups for our own competition.

On my team was the added advantage that was Jamie, but on the other team was a friend who had played polo for a year whilst at university, along with another friend who had been a hockey player. We set off and, feeling confident in my practice, I felt competitive and hit the ball in the direction of the goal posts and it only moved a short distance. I wasn’t quite the pro that I thought!

With screams of laughter and glee and again a couple of swear words, we all hit and got control of the ball at some stage and my team got the first goal. Again the ball was whisked off by the other side and there was some defensive moves being carried out too before a goal on the opposition team was carried out.

Once the competition was over, our polo ponies had their protective leg boots taken off, we downed our sticks and headed across the polo pitch. The pitch is also used as the eventing dressage arenas in Spring. We headed off for the beach for a cool down and dip in the sea, as our steeds had worked hard even with us being new to polo. It is also too good a view to miss once on the beach.

We also had Mary’s dog come with us for a swim in the sea and some seals swam over from nearby rocks. The ponies splashed and played in the water, while we chatted happily and had a number of pictures taken, which had been done throughout the lesson, so we would have some happy memories.

We came back up the beach and lane to return across the polo field and dismounted reluctantly, as we didn’t want the lesson to finish but we were elated that we had such a wonderful time. I can honestly say we had the best ‘craic’ and felt at ease with Mary and Jamie, who were great instructors and seemed to enjoy the fact that we had got quite competitive.

In the strange times of Covid, it’s good to try something different and I can definitely recommend trying a lesson for yourself. We enjoyed it so much we are planning to get another session booked and, my friend who previously played at uni has already returned for another lesson.

If anyone is interested, have a look at Seahorse Polo on Facebook or email: seahorsepolo@gmail.com

They also have beach rides and, although myself and friends can ride and have our own horses, they cater for all sorts of abilities with a good selection of horses.DIP: Enjoying a dip in the sea on a wonderful sunny Saturday. (FW35-513NN)

They say polo is the sport of Kings, but we certainly felt like royalty ourselves and it is all within reach in a beautiful part of Northern Ireland!

Taking a lesson in polo at Tyrella

COOL DOWN: The friends went for a cool down on the beach. (FW35-512NN)

Taking a lesson in polo at Tyrella

READY TO GO: Gillian Whyte and five friends recently went for a polo lesson in the grounds of Tyrella House. (FW35-511NN)

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