Polo in UAE excels after creating a perfect bond between man and intelligent animal

Clinova win exhibition match on a pristine Al Habtoor Polo Resort field in Dubai

Dubai: It’s no wonder that the game of polo is called a royal sport. It creates a perfect bond between man and intelligent animal.

The perfect combination was on full display when the four-member team of El Basha Polo faced Clinova Scone Polo in an exhibition match, created to give a Silver Cup experience and organised by International Free Zone Authority (IFZA) at the Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club in Dubailand on Saturday.

IFZA polo action at Al Habtoor 

It’s not just about the player performing in a match, the polo ponies’ role is much higher. The role of the horse is about 60-70 per cent and the remaining is that of the player. To increase the complex nature of the sport, sometimes one players uses multiple horses — three, four or more — in a single game to preserve the horse.

Raja Karim, a patron from UK, said: “Horse racing comes from my family roots. I got into polo because it is a bit more teamwork and requires more brain power. So I thought OK, this is better for me. To develop the bond with the horses, it requires lots of practice and lot of work in the stables and having time with them. They are very intelligent polo ponies. They know what they need to do, 60-70 per cent horses perform and the rest is the player.

Karim also had a huge praise for the facility. “It’s incredible. Mohammad Habtoor has done a great job here. We play the best polo in this time of the year,” he added.

Al Habtoor Polo Resort witnessed some thrilling action on Saturday.

Al Habtoor Polo Resort witnessed some thrilling action on Saturday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

In the exhibition match, the first chukka ended 1-1 after intense action and became 2-2 midway through the second chukka. Clinova, with Raja Karim (1), David Paradice (1), Facundo Llorente (8) and Guillermo Terrera (9), surged to a 3-2 lead.

However, El Basha, represented by Hani Jabshe (-1), Justo Cuitino (3), Tomas Iriarte (4) and Alferdo Capella (8), restored parity to level the match 3-3 by half-time.

Clinova once again went ahead in the third of the four-chukka match, only to preserve the lead in the final to clinch the match on the perfect field that’s been witnessing some intense competition during this month in the Silver Cup, which is moving towards the final stages, and will be followed by the Gold Cup.

In polo 'the role of the horse is about 60-70 per cent and the remaining is that of the player'
In polo ‘the role of the horse is about 60-70 per cent and the remaining is that of the player’Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Talking about the wonderful facilities, Iriarte, Manager of Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club, said: “Polo has a long history in the UAE. Mohammad Al Habtoor, who has always been passionate about polo, started this six years ago. He built the club, he built the fields.”

After a difficult year last year due to lockdowns and several restrictions, it’s been a very busy polo season this year. “We had a very busy season with many tournaments and guests, new patrons coming from Europe, US, Australia this year. We are opening ourselves to the polo world and everyone is quite enthusiastic here in Dubai,” Iriarte added after an exhausting action-filled match.”

If one thought that it’s an expensive sport, Iriarte eased the concerns. “It’s expensive if you do high competitions, but spend time on a horse, stick a ball and learning to ride is quite affordable here. We have coaches, polo academy, riding school we can start riding from scratch and then go to showjumping, polo, dressage. The advantage with children is, they learn and understand very fast, so they will be able to reach a good level in the sport in one to two years.”

The polo season runs in Dubai from October until May with breaks in summer months — June, July and August.

Jabshe, who played for El Basha, also gave his thumbs up for the facility and the polo scene in Dubai, saying that it is going to “explode” to greater proportions. “I moved to Dubai in August last year and the polo here is Excellent. I used to play in UK, but here it’s lot more fun, lot more challenging and lot more exciting. And you have the beautiful weather as well.”

Jabshe said the amazing pros in the circuit will make it challenging and make the contest more exciting.

“They Keep your adrenalin pumping and keep the heart racing at 180. This is just the beginning and it is going to explode here,” he added.

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Dashers team members Mia Jackson, Allegra Kelly, Khalaf Al Habtoor and Lucero Monteverde celebrate after winning the first match of IFZA Polo Exhibition match at Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

The day began with young champions, some as old as eight and who have been training at the academy, wowed the spectators with their talents in the match between Dashers and Rockets with Dashers winning the contest 6-5.

It’s an important step by the Al Habtoor academy to help keep the sport growing and also increase the popularity among children. “We have an academy and new kids coming to play polo, son of players and new people coming and it’s the future. We currently have 12-15 kids training at the academy.”

Alegra Kelly, 14, was excited after her team, Dashers, clinched the first match. The teen, who began playing the sport three years ago, is enjoying her connect with the horses and says it boils down to the experience of riding and the confidence in one’s abilities.

“I started riding when I was three. Overtime you ride different horses and eventually get to know the horse and develop the connection in a short time. I think it boils down the experience of riding and confidence. You should be strong to know what you are doing and be ready for anything,” said Kelly, who feels the sport will be amazing when more girls take part.

The Muzzio brothers — Santiago Muzzio (10), Alejandra Muzzio (9) Juan Muzzio (7) — were equally excited after the game.

“We enjoy the sport and we ride before play everyday and get to know the horses,” said the Argentinian young champions who followed in the footsteps of their professional father. “It’s a fun game.”

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