I trot my horse back and forth, practicing my swing as Evelyn debriefs me about the thrilling, high-speed game. It’s the second most dangerous sport in the world, after car racing, but even with the inherent risks, polo has never been known exclusively as “a man’s sport.” It’s actually the only sport without a handicap between genders.
I’m delighted by that distinction, but it’s a tricky business to control my horse, gallop and connect my stick with the small white ball on the grass all at the same time. But after my first swift smack, I’m hooked and immediately want to learn more about all things polo.
Fortunately, Sohail Quraeshi, Evelyn’s close friend and fellow world-class polo player, was also visiting Barbados and shed some light on the sport’s history for me.
Most people think the British invented polo, but it dates back to the 5th century in Persia, in what is now Iran. (The British merely re-invented the game in 1862 after seeing an exhibition in India.).
Quraeshi tells me polo was considered “a game of kings,” but it was also used as a brutal war game throughout Asia. During the bloody reign of the Tang Dynasty, players would ride savagely atop Mongolian battle horses, knocking around the skulls of their decapitated enemies.
When I asked him how he got into polo, Quaraeshi replies matter-of-factly, “chasing women of course.” But now, he says the alluring sport has turned into a way of life.
“There’s only two ways out of polo,” he says. “Death and bankruptcy.”
And after just one lesson, I can understand the truth in that hyperbole.
Ramona Flume is an insatiable world traveler who has spent the past two summers exploring her favorite country, Colombia, alone and armed only with her notebook and film cameras. She stayed in Austin after graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism, and writes about her travels at her blog: http://ramonaflume.wordpress.com.