Wednesday 21 March 2018

Hugh Dawnay

Career soldier and world-renowned polo coach who founded a school for the sport in Waterford

Major Hugh Dawnay, who has died aged 79, won international recognition as a polo coach by developing a unique system of instruction at a school he set up in Waterford.

He began his own polo career while at Sandhurst and reached a three-goal handicap, which he maintained until he was over 60. He captained both his regimental team and the British Army polo team.

Dawnay discovered his flair for coaching with the polo clubs at Dusseldorf and Hamburg. Despite some initial reservations from a few diehards, he insisted on having mixed teams of British and German players. As a result, many of the British players stayed in German houses, and this led to a great improvement in relations.

Dawnay sought to instill in players a tactical discipline, reminding them that polo is a team game. To drum this home, he began teaching new players by taking them off their horses. Once on foot, the team members were attached together by a rope and thus forced to move as a unit. Then, using short mallets, they played the game. Only when tactics and shape were mastered in this manner did his pupils remount.

After leaving the British Army, Dawnay returned to live full-time on his 500-acre dairy farm near Waterford, where, in 1976, he established the Whitfield Court International Polo Vision School . He ran the school until 2002, during which time players from 31 countries came to be coached.

For more than a decade, from 1983, he ran annual clinics at the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club, as well as coaching the British Army polo team. He visited venues across the world to foster and develop the sport.

Jilly Cooper, researching her raunchy novel Polo, came to the clinic at Palm Beach to mug up on the equestrian side. She acknowledged Dawnay's help in Polo's introduction, in which she said that to start learning the game without being taught by Dawnay was like getting married without having had any romantic experience.

Hugh Dawnay, the son of Major-General Sir David Dawnay, DSO and Bar, was born on December 17, 1932, at Lucknow, India, where his father was stationed with the British Army.

His father captained the British polo team at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936 and won a silver medal. His mother, Lady Katharine Beresford, was the daughter of the fifth Marquis of Waterford.

Hugh's youth was not without adventure. Aged five, he watched his home, a farmhouse in Wiltshire that the family had rented, go up in flames and burn to the ground. At his first hunt in Ireland, his pony fell into a bog and sank until only its nostrils were showing. It was rescued in the nick of time. He was educated at Eton and then went to RMA Sandhurst, where his father was Commandant. On a tank-driving course at Bovington, Dorset, a mischievous instructor encouraged him to accelerate as he approached the top of a hill. On the other side, there was a large water hole and, unable to stop in time, he was soaked from head to foot.

He served for 21 years in the 10th Hussars and, during a career in which he held several commands, his postings included Germany, Jordan and Aden. His ambition to command his regiment was frustrated by its amalgamation with the 11th Hussars (to become the Royal Hussars), and he retired in 1971 with the rank of major.

A successful amateur jockey in his youth, he rode several winners and competed on courses including Sandown, Cheltenham and Aintree. On one occasion, after his horse had fallen at Sandown, the nurse at the fence said to him: "I recognised you from last year when you were concussed and babbling nonsense. I'm glad to see you are not hurt this time."

In 1975 he became Joint Master of Foxhounds with the Waterford Hunt. He published Polo Vision (1984) and Playmaker Polo (2004). He died on May 28.

Hugh Dawnay married, in 1971, Maria Ines Cermesoni, whom he met while playing polo in Argentina. She survives him with their two sons.

Sunday Independent

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