He follows the ponies

GLENN Sherriff is back in New Zealand as he prepares for the New Zealand Polo Open after a busy season playing in the UK.

He’s made a career out of playing polo — as a professional with a five-goal handicap — and training polo ponies.

He says he was hitting a polo ball around by the time he was eight years old.

“Gisborne’s where I started off. Dad played when I was young, and I started when he was playing.

“It’s a great club down there. That’s where I started. I hope more people get into it, because in New Zealand the sport is really accessible.”

Glenn Sherriff grew up on the family farm on the outskirts of Gisborne with his parents Mike and Ngaire.

He attended Waerenga-o-Kuri School, Makauri School, Gisborne Intermediate and Gisborne Boys’ High.

After he left school to work on a sheep and beef farm in the Manawatu, Sherriff continued playing polo because the family he lived with played too.

“They call it the polo bug,” he said.

“Once you start playing you get addicted. There are so many aspects and little bits that go into it and make it work . . . so many different pieces to the puzzle.”

Having just got back into the country, Sherriff has been busy working with a stable of polo ponies. He trains them and sells them in Clevedon, just south of Auckland.

He’s working with about 25 horses, at varying levels of their training.

“Out of those 25, about 10 are in my main string for higher-level polo, five are halfway and playing lower-level polo, and about 10 have just started either this year or last year.”

While horses in the sport are referred to as “polo ponies”, they can come from a variety of backgrounds, he says.

Some of his horses are straight off the racetrack, with parents who had no polo experience, while others have been bred for their ability on the polo field.

“A big thing is their temperament, but that’s not the easiest to tell. You also look at their conformation (build). You’re wanting something between 15 and 15.3 hands so you’re not too high off the ground, and a smaller horse has better manoeuvrability.”

He said it typically took a horse three seasons to become a fully fledged polo pony.

“I’ve bred a few myself. I’ve also broken in quite a few off the racetrack at three or four years of age and trained them.

“I do start to look at breeds a little bit but only if I find one of those sires for a horse I’ve already had success on.

“It’s quite a cool thing to see your ponies around the world playing at the highest of levels.”

With New Zealand’s polo season fast approaching, Sherriff was hard at work preparing the horses when The Gisborne Herald caught up with him.

All his horses have done about six weeks of work getting into shape and practising before the season starts this weekend.

The New Zealand polo calendar has the New Zealand Polo Open and the Savile Cup (the two most prestigious national events in the sport) on consecutive weekends.

Sherriff said that while the games they played in the lead-up were also important, the focus was firmly on every man and horse being in peak form for the back-to-back tournaments.

As for ambitions in the sport, he said he didn’t have any goals other than to continue enjoying the game.

“If everything goes well and you don’t have a big fall, it’s a sport where you have guys playing polo through their 50s at a top level.

“There’s a lot of other parts to the polo scene. The horses are a big part of it, so if I keep training horses and selling them, I’m still in the industry.”

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