Just how tough is the Sport of Kings?

By Diana Pearl
February 23, 2018 01:39 PM
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Credit: Tim Rooke/REX/Shutterstock

What It Is: Polo, the horse-riding, mallet-wielding sport loved by the men of the British royal family, including Prince William and Prince Harry

Who Tried It: Diana Pearl, PEOPLE Royals Writer/Reporter

Level of Difficulty: For my lesson, I’d say 6. For playing the actual game, I’d say 9.

I love royals and I love horses. But despite these two passions in my life, I had never brought them together in the most fitting of ways: a game of polo.

Polo is about a royal a sport as it gets: It’s nicknamed the Sport of Kings. Prince William and Prince Harry play, and in years past, Prince Charles and Prince Philip did, too.

My polo lesson took place at the most royal of locations: the Longdole Polo Club in Gloucester, England. A 30-minute drive away from Highgrove, Prince Charles’s country home, it’s where William and Harry first learned the sport and practiced it growing up.

My instructors, who know (and love) the royal brothers, say that they’re “lovely” and “down to earth.”

“They don’t make you feel uncomfortable,” one of them added.

Preparing to use our newfound polo skills (I’m in the yellow).
| Credit: Diana Pearl

Though polo is played by both men and women, royal ladies usually watch from the sidelines. I was eager to have the complete royal experience — and that meant saddling up.

I had an upper hand compared to a few of my polo classmates in that I grew up riding horses. But as my current New York City-dwelling lifestyle doesn’t provide many opportunities to do so, it’s been years since I rode with any regularity. Because we were newbies to riding a horse while swinging a mallet around, we practiced on wooden horses first.

Polo practice on the wood horse
| Credit: Diana Pearl

I climbed up on the fake horse, complete with a fake horse head, with my mallet and learned the technique for swinging. You hold the mallet in your dominant hand (for me, my right), swing it to the back with the head perpendicular to the ground. When you swing it to the front, you twist mallet so the head is now parallel to the ground, so you have more area of the mallet available to hit the ball. Of course, you hope that when you do swing it back to the front, you’ll hit the ball. It’s fun, and easy enough when you’re on a stationary wooden horse.

On a real horse, however, is a different story. I landed on a beautiful brown-haired horse named Mambo, who is an experienced polo player, I was told.

My new pal Mambo
| Credit: Diana Pearl

Actually hitting the ball while directing a horse is hard. The ball would go one way, my horse would go the other. I’d kick Mambo to go faster, and he would, but then he would slow down after a few seconds. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to focus on all those moving parts while trying to actually score a goal or keep the ball away from your opponent.

With Mambo!
| Credit: Diana Pearl

Also, swinging around a several-foot long wooden mallet is not exactly a day at the palace. It’s hard work! After our lesson, my mallet-wielding arm was so, so sore. This is not a sport for those low on upper body strength (myself included).

Conclusion: I have a new level of respect for William and Harry — and not only because the staff at Longdole said they were so lovely. I don’t think I’ll find myself playing on a polo pitch for real any time soon. (I’d much rather pull a Princess Diana, Meghan Markle or Kate Middleton and watch from the sidelines.)

However, I’d gladly take a chance to hang out with Mambo again.