When I was a kid, a trip over the Bombay Hills was an adventure. A steep, winding, treacherous road, the old Ford Prefect loaded with kids and camping gear struggling on up and wild applause as we cruised down the other side. Not any more. Now, it's an easy drive on the M1 and only 30 minutes out of Auckland.
This time, I was on my way to visit Ainsley Polo www.ainsleypolo.co
I took the Pukekoe turnoff and seemed to be driving along the crest of the Bombay Hills. Was there space for a polo field here? Driving slowly along the East Pukekoe road I was looking for signs. There! A glimpse of emerald green at the base of a grass-covered volcanic crater. A quick U turn. I headed down the long steep gravel drive and there it was, Ainsleypolo. Miraculously, space for what looked like two full sized fields, a stick and ball field, and pony lines under shady trees and the world's cutest club house nestled to the back above the fields.
Ainsleypolo had been mentioned quite often in Polo Times and my son, Chris, manager and trainer at Polo Bern www.polobern.ch had been in contact with Ross Ainsley about their great saddles for both himself and his clients. I mean, if the newest saddles are being used by Adolfo Cambiaso, Facu Pieres, Facu Sola and Pelon, to name but a few, who wouldn't want one? So, on a visit to New Zealand to meet up with family, it seemed like a good idea to take a look at this operation. I have always stressed in my commentaries that polo is a family sport and this operation looked like a successful story to bare this out.
My appointment with Ross was on a chukker night. I could see there'd be twelve chukkers played that afternoon. That's a lot of chukkers for mid-week so I was impressed. I strolled over to the pony lines and chatted to grooms, was greeted by a friendly bunch of players who suggested I join in, and wandered back to the shade of the club house to watch.
The Bombay Hills Polo Club was first established in 1934 but is now incorporated in the 150 acre Ainsley Polo Farm. Some sheep and cattle are run to keep the pastures in good condition, but the focus is on horses for polo. Ross has worked with horses in many countries but has come to the conclusion that New Zealand seems to have more thoroughbreds that look and go like polo ponies. The original TBNZ bloodlines have a lot of genetics that lend itself to playing polo. While they have 80 ponies in work at present, plus their breeding program, most of their young horses come from the race horse industry and are trained up for polo. The market for these ponies is literally all over the world with horses being sent to England, Ireland, Switzerland, Germany, Malaysia, India, Australia, and Argentina within the last 12 months.
What is the Ansleypolo vision?
For Ainsleypolo, the focus is also to make it as easy as possible for people to get into the game. Lots of kids and new players starting up create a fun atmosphere and their enthusiasm is contagious. After an initial Kids Polo Day held earlier in the season was such a hit, there are now regular evening chukkers for children.
Who is involved?
With brother Kel running the farm and the New Zealand side of the operation including polo holidays, lessons and horses, Ross concentrates on running the UK side, managing teams, players and playing professionally. He and his wife, Lucy, also run the saddlery business www.ainsleysaddlery.co.nz
which, Ross tells me, has gone crazy with their new innovations to the saddle. These innovations have been a real game changer, interacting with the horse shoulder and freedom of movement.
But....that looks like another story. So, next year in the New Zealand summer I'll be back.