Having had a successful tour to Kihikihi Polo Club New Zealand in 2012; Flight Lieutenant Vicky Woodhead decided to return for a couple of intensive weeks training to start the 2013 season. Here is her report:
I was able to base at the Kihikihi Polo Club again, kindly hosted by Club president and New Zealand national team member, 3 goaler Hamish Ormond.
Due to flight costings and to reduce time away from work I flew out after Christmas and headed straight down to Outlook Farms, where Hamish and his family are based. We wasted no time in getting down to business and I found myself the next morning out on the farm on a familiarisation ride with Hamish, the “points for improvement” were flowing thick fast and the benefit of riding constantly with a corrector on one’s shoulder were evident. Due to the New Years break, we had 2 intensive days of training before a 2 day break to let the muscles recover. The New Year started with chukkas and I had to jump into the deep end in blazing sunshine in fast club chukkas. The national club tournament was being held earlier this year, so the club practises were more intense and aimed at team development. As I was unable to stay for the tournament I was either allocated as opposition or had the opportunity to develop solo hitting skills. As ever the faster paced game was an eye opener but the benefit of playing in faster polo is huge and it makes you a sharper, more aware player.
The gap between chukka sessions was spent on working on riding techniques and ensuring my position is correct to enable a stable hitting platform. On match days I had concentrated stick and ball sessions, trying to implement all the corrections and improvements, while still hitting the ball.
This year one of my goals was to increase my knowledge and experience in the training of polo ponies, something I had worked on several years ago with Hamish. Several days were spent working with the young ponies, repeating turns and movements to increase flexibility and responsiveness. We then progressed to an often harder task of correcting bad habits in the older ponies. To make the exercises more fun for the ponies, and to get some farm work done, we would go and round cattle up, using stopping and turning techniques as you would in a polo match. The polo pony can make or break a game so it is vital to be able to school and train them correctly.
Overall this year I focussed much more on my riding technique and getting the most out of my ponies, starting from training at home to schooling before a match. The re-learning of techniques and correction of bad habits takes time and practise and I found New Zealand to be a perfect opportunity to do both. I have learnt many skills to take home to train my own ponies and to pass on to other club members. As ever the unique nature of NZ polo ensured I was immersed with knowledgeable and experienced polo players who were very willing to advise and educate me. I look forward to trying out my new skills and techniques on my ponies and in RAF matches.
Many thanks to Kihikihi Polo Club and Hamish Ormond for having me and the RAF Sports Board for assistance in funding the trip.