Polocrosse is sometimes, accurately but a little unfairly, called poor man’s polo. The field is quarter the size of a polo field, so you can play with only one horse – in fact at tournaments you are only allowed one horse – and instead of a hard and potentially lethal ball being hammered along at terrifying speeds, it is played with a soft spongy ball which is flicked from stick to stick. The sticks themselves are netted, slightly like lacrosse sticks, hence the name.
There are only three players to a section (two sections to a team), and the game is played in 8 minute chukkas as it is in polo. The main difference is that the 4 polo players making up a team change horses every chukka, whereas polocrosse sections play alternate chukkas, so can rest between. It isn’t as fast as polo, simply because there isn’t as much ground to cover, but we insist that it is far more skilled.
It is also the most fun you can have on a horse, and I’ve been riding since I could first close my chubby fists around a hank of mane. Gymkhana, pony club, show-jumping, dressage, cross country, drag hunting, been there, loved that, but nothing matches the champagne high of a fast game of polocrosse when the ball smacks into your net, your horse swivels smoothly and gallops towards the far goal, the crowd is shrieking hysterically and coming up at a hard gallop is your scorer, calling for the ball …
Well of course there are the times you dropped the catch, or fumbled the pass, or your knees have been crushed to a throbbing paste by constant impact after the third game of the tournament. The dust is blinding, or it is raining, or freezing, the other team is just so much better that you never get to touch the ball – that’s all forgotten in the lure of the next tournament.
I was lucky to learn the game on a horse that took to it like a duck to water. He wasn’t very fast, but he was fearless and threw his whole heart into the game, watching the ball with an eagle eye, throwing himself so enthusiastically into the pushes, shoulder to shoulder, that if the other horse had stepped away he would have fallen over. More than once he braked in the galloping melee and turned back in the clouds of dust, the only one to notice the ball had fallen to the ground. He’d drop his shoulder as I leaned in for the pickup and if I missed, his ears would snap back against his head in irritation at my absolute uselessness. Humbly apologizing to your horse as well as your team is very depressing, I learned to pick the ball up. We started with a minus 2 handicap and he got me to a plus 2 before he retired (extremely reluctantly) at the age of 20. The new horse pushed my handicap higher and we went on to represent Gauteng three times at the National Championships but when I remember polocrosse now, or look at the trophies forever prominent on my shelves, it is those early days I remember, and the fun. Such fun.
(The drawing is a cheeky adaptation of a Nicholas Courtney polo cartoon) (apologies to NC)