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June 12, 2017updated 25 Oct 2017 11:34am

Play like royals: Polo experience at Coworth Park

By Codelia Mantsebo

Have you ever wanted to play the sport of kings? Codelia Mantsebo takes the reins at Princes William and Harry’s favourite polo location

‘Don’t wear white jeans, polo shirts or polo-branded tops if you are not actually playing,’ polo champion Ebe Sievwright announces as he provides some polo etiquette advice. He is our instructor for the day.

A professional player and instructor with over 25 years’ experience, Sievewright has played with royals, trained stars in Los Angeles, played matches around the globe, and now oversees the Guards Polo Academy at Coworth Park, making him the perfect instructor for the day.

Prior to arriving at Coworth Park, the culture of polo was an entirely virgin territory to me. ‘They’re not called polo horses, they’re polo ponies – never call them polo horses out loud,’ Sievwright advises. In fact, sitting on a polo pony was such a far-fetched possibility in my life, almost akin to space travel or transatlantic hot-air ballooning in my head. I imagined such activities were for royals and millionaires alone but Sievwright explains that it’s major misconception is it is only something princes play.

Despite riding a horse on holiday just once before, and not being particularly sporty, I was surprisingly excited to have my first ever turn at playing polo. It was probably Sievwright’s calm and supportive manner that reassured this would be a thrilling experience, or maybe it was that I’ve never fallen off a horse, or a bicycle. Perhaps fear of the unknown was not present today.

Shortly after our brief, we are taken to the polo fields in golf buggies. Sievwright takes us to wooden horse statues where we first learn how to hold and swing a mallet – think croquet; but turn your stick sideways for a side hit. Hitting the ball atop a wooden horse was strangely challenging – I’m told that I’m holding the mallet wrong which is causing the ball to cut across rather than fly straight. I take a few more swings and getting the ‘perfect hit’ becomes easy. I jump off the wooden horse with a triumphant smile on my face – rearing to start playing, on a real polo pony.

As a complete novice to polo and riding, I’m taught to hold polo reins, which are, apparently, different from riding reins. It only took a minute or two to learn how to steer and halt a pony. I’m catching on and soon I’m cantering along like it was second nature to me. I found riding far more fun than I had expected to find it.

After learning to hit the ball straight in consecutive shots atop a pony, Sievwright lets us play first from a walk before transitioning to faster paces.

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‘Watch the ball, carefully aim, keep watching the ball, swing, follow through and whatever else you do, DON’T HIT THE HORSE WITH YOUR STICK!’ Sievwright exclaims, as we finally get into competition mode. The sounds of a horse panting and galloping and the clunks from the mallet hitting a plastic ball gave me an adrenaline jolt that proved addictive.

With giddy heights achieved, for complete beginners, and the generous hour lesson over too soon, we headed to one of the hotel’s two restaurants, the Barn, for lunch. Located among the cottage and stable conversion and housed in the frame of the original barn, the restaurant features a working stone fireplace, while the floor to ceiling windows offer great views across Coworth Park’s polo field. We enjoyed brasserie-style dining in a charming, rustic atmosphere.

I spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the stately hotel and its fields. The interiors are decorated in a tasteful equine theme with sculptures, paintings, and horse motifs.
The rest of the grounds are as striking as the polo fields, with beautiful grounds of fields of wild flowers, manicured gardens filled with roses and lavender, and a croquet lawn.

Breathtakingly beautiful and situated in Ascot, Coworth Park’s Guards Polo Academy is close enough to London to be practical for lessons but far enough to fool one into thinking they were well into the countryside.

All Coworth Park guests are given automatic entry to open events, and those wishing to gain a closer grasp of the game can train at the polo academy. However, that is not to say the hotel is just for the polo-mad. Guests can take part in quintessential English activities such as tennis, golf, and horse riding, or take the opportunity to indulge in the most cherished of rural English pastimes: leisurely country walks.

A polo experience at the Guards Polo Academy at Coworth Park is more than just a lesson or a game: it’s an unforgettable experience. The country outpost is a retreat for those seeking rural life and creature comforts without giving up the glamour.

For a quintessential English experience, a lesson in polo or the spectacle of a match played out on the vast fields of Coworth Park is difficult to beat.

Prices start at £175 for an individual one-hour private lesson and £150 per person for a group (three people minimum). A full-day polo experience is £800 for an individual and £700 per person for groups, while a half-day polo experience is priced at £400 for an individual and £340 per person for groups.

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