Polo, if put simply, is a game played between two teams, with four player’s a-side, on horseback aiming to hit a small ball travelling at fast speed with a mallet. But it’s not just that. It is a sport that carries passion and drive with a realm full of legacy and pursuit. And when it comes to legacy, it’s not confined to just a term but to reality. Polo since generations, has been a fever bequeathed as an inherited quality of the blood.
Forget about the glamour and stature associated with the equine sport and let’s focus on the traditions passed on from father to son. The game is polo; and on the perfectly manicured grounds of the Inanda Club is where Craig James, professional polo player and the club’s polo Manager, can be found riding his horses with pace, precision, speed and ease. Coming from the centre of the field are sounds of mallets connecting with the ball, resonating with the sounds of rapidly galloping horses and the voices from a group of young aspiring talented junior polo players to whom Craig dedicates time regularly, sharing his playing techniques, skills, abilities and possibly his secrets on how to achieve best results in a game.
Firmly established as one of the most popular and innovative polo programs, the Inanda Club polo school for novice and youth players, offers a platform that cultivates, reinforces and develops the younger aspiring generations of polo players, moreover it encourages the juniors to build strong bonds with the horses and particularly each other.
The game of Polo has transformed and developed into a great motivational sport for the youth as the rising star Zac Levy, 13, has demonstrated. With extensive practice he has become skilled at his craft proving that practice makes perfect. Zac, who was first exposed to polo two years ago had the opportunity to play alongside professional players in the 2018 Cell C Inanda Africa Cup, representing the South African Blue Label Telecomms team in the tournament, a team who will be back again this year looking for some silverware.
In a game that requires a unique blend of athletic talents from horses and the riders, matched with the demand for children expertise, to learn and play the game, Craig James opened the school eight years ago – the time and the mission were right.
Not only are the youth taught the mechanics of the game on the field, but they also acquire the rules of trust, respect, responsibility and confidence; amongst and towards themselves and the animals they work with.
In a close interaction with these budding stars, we discover the rawness and the unfiltered freshness of the young stars, ready to mesmerize the world with the undying spirit of Polo that rules their hearts.
Weekly afternoons’ training sessions begin with budding stars, Williem Fourie (10), Junior Motlabani (11), Zac Levy (13) and Kennedy Davis (16) to name but a few , preparing their equipment. To begin all the players, spend some time on the wooden horse where different shots are practiced standing still. Perfecting the grip on the mallet and swing are vital to success on the field says Kennedy Davis “A mallet is used to hit the ball” she describes “and the most common sizes used to play with are 51, 52 and 53. On the right hand side of the horse called the off side, there is a four hand, which is a forward shot and a backhand on the same side. By crossing over to the left-hand side known as the near side the ball is also played forward and backwards.
Continuing to showcase the innerworkings of polo Willem puts into perspective the skills required for playing and practicing on a regular basis explaining “Polo is a high-speed sport. You need to pay attention when riding – you need to understand the balance of the horse.” Willem also adds, “Polo is not just a sport for me, instead it is a way of life which I am in love with, polo taught me to give my 100%.”
Junior, an avid young polo player began playing at the age of 8. He goes on to reminisce about participating in the renowned Inanda High goal curtain raiser in 2018, confidently saying, “It’s overwhelming when you first start but you get used to it and that feeling of the wind on your face while on the horse is amazing.”
Kennedy recounts, “Joining the Inanda polo school, City Polo at Inanda, happened in an unusual way”. Three years ago, her brother wanted to start riding when introduced to the Inanda Club’s Polo School. The entire family signed up and Kennedy has been unstoppable since, she plays the game with great passion, sportsmanship, dedication and skills and has gone on to play in a few tournaments including the South African Championships.
As part of his commitment to fostering up and coming talent, Craig James says “The road to polo is one of passion, dedication and practice and to see the youth fully immersed into polo, putting everything they have into the sport is rewarding and inspiring. Seeing their growth as individuals on and off the field makes the long hours all worth it.
The African polo season is at its height as players from across the continent, are increasing their training tempo for the Cell C Inanda Africa Cup, set to take place on Sunday, 16 June 2019.