Often called the “sport of kings”, polo is often associated with social privilege and the elite. It is among the most expensive sports to play, given the need for impeccably trained horses, a large field for playing on, and the many years of training that riders, who are evidently highly skilled, require to get into the kind of physical shape that playing demands.
The drama of it, though, is undeniable. With just four players per team, plus two horse-mounted referees, the exertions, which frequently escalate to full-scale galloping and eye-popping skill with a wooden mallet wielded in one hand, are breathtaking to behold. In fact, just watching the action as players race up and down the field in pursuit of a tiny ball can be quite exhausting. Not only do you need to keep a sharp eye on the ball to know which team has the upper hand at any point, but from the sidelines, it’s possible to actually hear the deep, rigorous breathing of the steeds as they give chase.
The action, which consists of a series of seven-minute chukkas, can be intense. Players are evidently required to be not only skilled in the saddle, but incredibly confident of their ability to communicate almost subconsciously with their horses, and to be pretty dextrous in their handling of the ball, which is whacked with alarming precision and great force with nothing but the tiny end of a mallet. All while pounding across the turf at high velocity.
Currently underway at Val de Vie Estate’s equestrian grounds is the Veuve Clicquot Polo Brunch Series, happening over four Sundays this summer.
This brunch experience means a wonderful day out in the Winelands, with polo matches played against the backdrop of ragged mountains and the vastness of Val de Vie Estate stretching in every direction. As much as the events are centred on the polo, these gatherings aren’t exclusively about the horsey action. Attendees are also there for the scrumptious food, served at the estate’s Polo Pavilion, where a selection of breakfast and lunch courses are on offer, served at a languid pace along with glasses of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.
Between courses, there’s loads of space to mingle, explore, and slink into one of the deck chairs alongside the field for a closer look at the game. For some, it’s a chance to flaunt a bit of fashion savvy, dipping into the wardrobe for something special to wear on an uncommon day out. Hats are advisable as it’s usually a sun-drenched midday outing.
You may bump into South African Olympian Ryk Neethling, and you could be asked to throw in the polo ball at the start of a match. And even if you know nothing about polo, there are a few experts on hand, happy to explain the curious rules and clue you in on the details of polo culture. It’s a curious fact, for example, that you can identify the referees by the fact that their horses’ tails are left loose.
If you want to drop some knowledge, it’s worth knowing that polo originated as a kind of war game among nomadic Persians and Turks as far back as the 6th century BC – the game served as a form of cavalry training for troops.
Also worth noting is that while the horses are referred to as polo ponies, they are really full-size horses, and, as you will witness at Val de Vie – frequently ride like the wind, reaching tremendous speeds. And since horses are regularly changed between chukkas, you might want to check out how the riders sometimes jump directly from one horse to the next without dismounting onto the ground.
If you have a serious interest, it’s a good idea to bring binoculars to follow the action – the ball is small and the field is vast and it’s easy to get distracted by the surrounding scenery (not to mention the bubbly and food on your table). Finally, also worth knowing is that while it might be called the sport of kings, women play as well.
While the dress code for brunch is “vintage polo chic”, that’s a theme that’s open to interpretation – the idea is to arrive in the mood to mingle, chill and soak up a super day out.
The final two events in the Veuve Clicquot Polo Brunch Series are happening on 6 March and 24 April. Guests select between a three-course brunch accompanied by a glass of Champagne (R495), and brunch accompanied by free-flowing limitless Champagne (R1495). The first chukka for the first match starts at 10am, and diners can enjoy the meal at their own pace.
- Bookings: dineplan.com
- More information: [email protected] or call 087 821 1068
- Location: R301 Wemmershoek Rd, Val De Vie Winelands Lifestyle Estate
Words: Keith Bain