Sunday 19 January 2020

Pukka chukka as polo and racing join forces to help injured jockeys Fund

Horseware Ireland Team members Derville Meade and Elaine Monaghan
Horseware Ireland Team members Derville Meade and Elaine Monaghan

Lynne Kelleher

It originated among the royals of ancient Persia but the modern incarnation of polo still attracts blue bloods and the wealthy.

And yesterday the game was celebrated with champagne, Bentleys and jazz as the Ladies International Polo tournament took place in Co Wicklow.

Irish player Derville Meade, who will be playing on one of the Ireland teams on the field, said she loves the team sport.

"They kind of say it is like hurling on horseback," she said. "You are totally fixated on the ball and chasing it down. It's great fun and such a team sport.

"An awful lot of the equine sports are very solitary. In show-jumping, you are on your own, in dressage you are on your own and in cross country - but in this you have eight people out on the field shouting and having a bit of craic," she added.

Yesterday's event also included the Godolphin Celebrity Match featuring renowned horse trainers and jockeys and retrained racehorses in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund.

They were joined at the Ballyhenry estate by polo stars from all the world who jetted in for games which naturally took place after a Perrier Jouet Champagne reception.

That gave plenty of time to later enjoy the authentic Argentinian BBQ known as an Asado while there was also a luxury car display from Charles Hurst Bentley and Audi Centre in Belfast.

The event, hosted by Polo Wicklow on Ballyhenry Estate outside Ashford, attracted players from the USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and Saudi Arabia to take part in the largest tournament of its kind in Ireland.

Ireland took on the USA before challenging a "Rest of the World" selection. The top-rated Irish female player Siobhan Herbst captained one of the Irish teams.

Derville, who is married to top trainer Noel, said the well-known jockeys who took part yesterday had been in training to pick up polo skills for the contact sport.

"The polo ponies are ridden differently to normal horses because you are only using your left hand to steer them and you have to get the timing right of when the stick will hit the ball. We wear a lot of protective gear, knee pads and elbow pads and some of the helmets have face guards."

Derville added that her husband Noel had gently declined an offer to take part in the match.

"I'm representing him. I couldn't get him on a horse. He's got too much sense," she said laughing.

The first polo club in Ireland was set up in the Phoenix Park in 1873, making it the second oldest club in the world, and it is a growing sport in Ireland.

"There is a good five or six polo clubs scattered around the country and we all move for tournaments to each club. There is a growing number of girls playing," she said.

Derville added that it was decided to combine the racing and polo events in aid of the Irish Injured Jockeys Fund.

Sunday Independent

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