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  • Writer's picturekieseljanmarie

Kiwi Grounded...Arena Play

The rain hit us on the Thursday before the tournament. It'd been making its way down from the UK, through Germany and now into Switzerland. At Polo Club Bern, the first tournament of the season, the Kiwi Cup, was cancelled. But with the clouds lifting a bit on the Saturday, manager-trainer Chris Kiesel, could schedule arena chukkers. I'm not a great fan of arena polo. While everyone says it's wonderful, bringing the action so close to the spectators, I wasn't convinced. Too many fierce faces, aggressive elbows and

badly-timed ride-offs to be good advertising for the sport. But I'm always ready to have a change of heart and so interrupted Chris during his pre-chukker preparations.

What's the deal with arena polo, Chris?

"I'm not sure I'm the right person to talk to about this."

Why's that?

"Well, if you play arena for the horses and not to win, it's fun. It's also a lot more technical, and you have to ride so much better. There's no cheating in the arena."

No Cheating!!?

"No. You know on the field you can gallop

up the pitch and someone can lob you a ball and, abracadabra, you're in the game. In the arena it's so much quicker. If you can't move your pony and get your timing right to end up at the right place at the right moment, you're out! You have to keep moving, keep up the flow, passing the ball on. I put the goal posts IN the arena so that in the smaller playing area we can keep the play flowing, moving behind the goal posts, more like ice-hockey."

Do you often use the arena for lessons and instruction chukkers?

"I do, of course and players usually feel "Oh well, its better that nothing" I tell them it's more than that. It's developing 'quickness' rather that 'speed'. But if you're playing to win, it can be tough on the ponies. You're so close and there's a lot of turning and stopping. So just keep up the flow and, if you play for fun, it is just that... fun."

Listening to all of this, increased my interest in the afternoon chukkers and I watched the players give each other space, move behind the goal posts, call to each other and...laugh!

No gritted teeth here, no stressed ponies either. It looked like a well-balanced practice afternoon. Was I becoming an arena addict? Well, I was on my way, at least.

What I liked, too, was the great surface of the arena in Bern. Every riding discipline, from dressage to western, has its own surface preference, and I've often seen arena polo played on a surface that, for me, is too deep, too soft.

But Chris explained that the arena in Polo Club Bern is built on a high and low tide system, so you can adjust the firmness of the ground by the water level in there. Okay, so now it was getting too technical and complicated for me, but whatever, the result is perfect footing for the ponies and a rolling surface for the ball. It seemed so much more like the beach polo I'd seen in New Zealand at low tide in Hawkes Bay.

And the players? What did they think? Chatting to them after the chukkers they gave me a positive impression, understanding it was more for the horses than for "winning"; that it fine-tuned their riding ability and that it was more difficult than field polo.

So, as the climate changes in most of Europe, with some areas unable to water crops let alone a polo field, and others unable to play on their soggy wet ground, do all clubs need an arena? Certainly it extends the amount of play during the season. But beyond that, it adds a new dimension to your polo training, sharpening your play, improving your riding, encouraging all-round vision and awareness.

Okay, Chris. I'm sold on it.

Arena Polo -

So much more than a Plan B

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Chris is unanimously voted as Global Ambassador for Arena Polo. If he convinced you, he can sell anyone on the benefits of arena polo.


yeah think so

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