Who can forget that famous scene in Pretty Woman when Edward (Richard Gere) takes Vivian (Julia Roberts) to a polo match? With the British polo season kicking into full gear, now is the perfect opportunity to play Julia Roberts to your Richard Gere. If you too are feeling daunted by the prospect of watching your first live game, though, here’s a handy guide to chukkas, throw-ins and avoiding steaming divots, all with a flute of champagne in your hand.
First up, lunch comes first, then the polo. You’ll either be eating a picnic on the lawn, or being served a sit-down lunch, afternoon tea and continuous champagne.
Brush up on your polo vocabulary to keep the conversation flowing: the sticks are called ‘sticks’ or ‘mallets’, the ball is a ‘ball’, and fouls are called ‘fouls’. So far so good. However, don’t call the ground a ‘pitch’ and the horses are called ‘ponies’, regardless of size.
“Smashing neck shot.”
“Is Prince Harry playing today?”
A chukka is a seven-minute period of play with up to 30 seconds ‘overtime’ for all but the final chukka. High-goal matches are typically played over six to eight chukkas and low to medium goal matches are played over four to five.
A rude word in Spanish, used to describe bad players.
Pieces of turf kicked up by the ponies’ hooves. You will be asked to ‘tread in’ these divots at half time. One word of advice: avoid the steaming divots.
A player’s rating, based on their ability. Players are rating on a scale of -2 to 10, with 10 being the best. The combination of handicaps between the four players of the team denotes the level of the tournament.
The place where the ponies are kept and looked after by grooms during the game. You can visit the pony lines, but don’t pet the ponies without permission.
To start a play, one of two umpires or perhaps a distinguished guest will throw in the ball between the two teams of four players.
Awarded when a foul is committed. These vary depending on the severity of the foul committed. TIP: If a player is taking a free shot, don’t clap until the shot has passed through the goal posts, or you might upset the player (and the pony’s) concentration.
Contrary to public opinion, the dress code is reasonably relaxed, unless of course you are lunching in the Members’ Enclosure or royals are present. The dreaded smart casual is the best bet for both sexes and whatever you do, don’t wear white jeans, you are a spectator, not a player.
Chinos, blazer and a shirt. Consider a tie if it’s a smart day.
Classic and sophisticated are the key themes here. Go for sundresses that are comfortable and long enough for sitting on the grass. For a more conservative look, wear chinos with a blazer.
Stiletto heels are an amateur mistake – you will sink backwards into the grass during treading in, and most likely end up head over heels. Either go for smart flats or wedges.
As you’ll potentially be in the sun all day, remember those all important outdoor necessities – sunblock, sunglasses, a hat and binoculars to keep on top of the action at the other end of the field.
If you are watching from the side of the ground be sure to keep a safe distance from the sidelines. The game moves very quickly and sometimes a polo ball will be hit accidentally in the wrong direction or a pony might veer towards the crowd.
That said, watching the match at ground level is hard to understand. If you can find a raised vantage point this will give you a much better view of the game. And finally, if you bring your dog, make sure you keep him on a lead.