Having eaten and drunk my way around the city for my first month here in Buenos Aires, last week I decided to extend my comfort zone a little further and head out of my city surroundings, for an Argentine polo day! Ok, so I haven’t sat on a horse since I was 5 and escorted around the local farm on a small pony, but I was assured that this Polo Day was for total beginners (to both riding and polo). I was also encouraged by the fact that the all day experience would be in the beautiful surroundings of the Argentine countryside (and there was an infinity swimming pool and delicious lunch as part of the deal if the riding got too much!)
Heading less than an hour out of the city shouldn’t seem that daunting to someone who has flown half way across the world by herself, but the thought of leaving my Subte card behind to venture into the wilds of the pampas had me break out in a mild sweat (or was that just the insane humidity levels in the city?!). So I was thrilled to hear my polo day at the estancia included private transport there and back! On Tuesday morning, I met Gaston, my polo instructor for the day, and a few other countryside candidates close to the Obelisk to begin the transformation from city chica to polo professional.
We headed off in the direction of Canuelas, less than an hour from Capital Federal. With folkloric music in the background and a polo player at my side, my Argentine countryside experience began before I even got out of the car! On arrival to the estancia, I was stunned by the beauty of the place. The flat land and silence was such a contrast to my Palermo apartment. Gaston introduced us to the customs of mate drinking (that strange tasting drink I have not quite become accustomed to) and alfajores (the dulce de leche laced snack, that I absolutely love!). Having been kitted up properly (my Primark leggings were apparently not quite up to scratch!) with some bandage style shin protectors, it was time to mount the horse.
The team of stable boys did very well stifling their giggles as I bounced up and down in an attempt to get on board Lulu. My new friends had obviously been a little kind to me on the car journey up when they said they hadn’t ridden in years, as they seemed to take to the saddle with far more ease. Gaston gave us (me!) a few riding tips (his comment about thinking of the reigns like a “joystick” at least stopped me treating them like a steering wheel) and then we were off!
The morning lesson was spent “stick and balling” which to an amateur is a bit like croquet on horses. Gaston lined up the bochas (yes, my Spanish includes some polo terminology now!) as we tried (and sometimes succeeded) in hitting them. Focusing on the ball and stick certainly stopped me thinking about the fact I was on a horse, and I was so impressed with myself as we finished the class and I had managed to seemingly impossible: to trot and hit a ball at the same time.
Having worked up quite an appetite on the field, i was delighted to be faced with un monton of meat at the asado lunch. The civilised setting in the hotel grounds, under the shade of a tree, detracted from the amount of bife I tucked into (well I like to think it did anyway!) I also indulged in a glass of the estancia‘s malbec wine (when in Rome and all that) reasoning that I may need a little Dutch courage for my afternoon mini match.
After lunch, the group separated and headed off to enjoy some free time on the estancia. I chose a sunbed by the infinity pool, the double bonus of being able to work on my tan and subtly watch some polo players at work on the field. But some of the more active in the group hopped on bikes and toured the grounds.
4pm, and we were back on the horses. Gaston kindly agreed to “up my handicap” and be my teammate as we took on the others in a mini match. The feeling of pride I got from hitting the ball was nothing compared the adrenaline rush I got running side by side with my opposition! Gaston took time to explain different polo rules such as “the line of the ball” and demonstrated the ways in which a polo can take the ball from another player. An hour later, exhausted but elated, I felt pretty excited to think that having not been riding since my little pony was led around the children’s farm all those years ago, that I had now played in a polo game!
I was soon brought back to reality, when we headed over to watch polo club members play in a “proper” match. The speed and intensity of the game makes it a fascinating sport to watch (and believe me, it takes a lot to get me to watch a sport). Having tried out the techniques first hand it was great to see how the game works when the players are a bit more experienced. The opportunity to throw in the ball in-between each chukker (a 7 minute period of play) and ring the bell at the end made for some great pictures for my Facebook profile.
With the sun beginning to set, it was time to leave my countryside retreat and head back to the bright lights of Buenos Aires. I may not be playing in the Palermo Open (the polo equivalent of Wimbledon) next year but I returned well fed, relaxed from this amazing Polo Day Trip, and with enough polo speak to get chatting to any players hanging out in the city! What more could a city girl ask for?!