Photographer Aline Coquelle captures the illustrious game of polo in a new coffee table book by Assouline. Argentine polo champions Clemente Zavaleta and Bartolomé Castagnola at the Chantilly Polo Club in 2020.
© Aline Coquelle / Courtesy of Assouline
In 2003, Parisian photographer Aline Coquelle began traveling to capture the sport of polo as played around the world, from the US to Europe, Mongolia, Pakistan, India, South America and Dubai.
She quickly became the foremost chronicler of the “sport of kings”, her photographs of players, trainers, horses and spectators, on and off the field, “celebrating the game’s courage, strength and speed, and its unmistakable “elegance.” and allure’ – whether played by English aristocrats or nomadic tribesmen.
In 2009, Assouline published her impossibly beautiful photos in a book titled Polo: The Nomadic Tribe, who was hailed by the likes of the Prince of Wales, an avid polo player for most of his life. Now the famous French luxury publishing house comes with a long-awaited successor, Polo Heritage, which is even more beautiful than the original. Coquelle believes that “rescuing and transcending tradition is the ultimate in modernity”, and her photographs have a timeless quality, whether in black and white or lavish colors.
To accompany the visual feast, Coquelle gathered some high-profile names in the polo universe to think along, including Jean-Luc Chartier, president of the legendary Bagatelle Polo Club in Paris, who gives a brief history of the sport. “Polo was born 2,500 years ago among the horsemen of the Central Asian steppes,” he writes.
“Later the first traces of this semi-sport, semi-warrior activity were found in Persia. Fine art par excellence, it was the prerogative of the elites and of the monarch himself. Darius the First, king of Persia (522-486 BC), is believed to have been the first great polo player. Traditionally, polo remains a prestigious sport, for elites and non-elitist…. No other pretends to combine so many qualities. Courage, endurance, submission, discipline, composure, judgment, speed of observation and sangfried ensure that polo remains a men’s sport.”
Billionaire luxury goods scion Patrick Guerrand-Hermès, former president of the Federation of International Polo and founder of the Chantilly Polo Club, notes that “illustrious champions” of the field, including Winston Churchill, Generals Patton and MacArthur, Malcolm Little and the Olympians Tommy Hitchcock, Averell Harriman, Juan Carlos Harriott and Georges Catroux, “lent this unique sport its legendary character. “
“From the early twentieth century, when F. Scott Fitzgerald’s romance The Great Gatsby Certain personalities reigned in the West that heightened the allure of this dream game, including the lovers of Coco Chanel, from Étienne Balsan to the second Duke of Westminster and, finally, Porfirio Rubirosa.”
Before his passing earlier this year, his lifelong polo enthusiast HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh even gave his take on the game: “A polo match starts long before the teams line up on the field to play…. The match then begins and all previous fear and planning, organization and practice are put to the test in forty minutes of flashing sticks, galloping ponies, swearing, thrusting, yelling, clapping to warm the heart and misses to cool the spine.”
Nacho Figueras, one of the world’s top polo players — he’s also known as the “David Beckham of polo” — also known as a Ralph Lauren model, contributed a foreword to the book, which begins by noting that “Winston Churchill used to say, ‘A polo handicap is a passport to the world’, which for me is the best way to sum up in one sentence how I feel about polo.”
His fellow Argentine polo star, Adolfo Cambiaso, who has broken all polo world records and has an almost impossible handicap of ten goals, adds: “In Argentina, polo is more than a simple sport. It’s a way of life that goes back generations.”
Renowned polo journalist and author Herbert Spencer offers that: “No other game in which one group of players competes against another offers such a combination of power, speed, timing, teamwork and that element of risk that appeals to the average spectator…. The game demands maximum strength, agility, endurance and courage from both man and horse.”
However, not all the main figures of polo are men. British model, racing driver and TV personality Jodie Kidd is one of the world’s most famous players. Just like Clare Mountbatten, Marchioness of Milford Haven, who has been playing for almost 25 years. “I love the horses, the speed, the skill, the competition, the camaraderie and the lifestyle,” she writes. “Win or lose, I always come off the field somehow with a elated feeling.”