Monday, August 23, 2010

Polo, canal concerts and a little shopping fun

It's been a busy weekend for me. Sail 2010 was in town but i didn't really see much of that. I saw a few ships when travelling in and out of town - I'm just not sure it's very exciting unless you get to have a go with them. Plus it's very busy and I'm not a big fan of crowds!

So what I actually did on Saturday was book myself in for a polo clinic in Wassennaar. Now, I can't claim to be the greatest horseman in the world. In fact I only started learning to ride last August and hadn't been on a horse since December. Plus all my experience so far has been in an arena, learning dressage. I've decided dressage is quite boring!

That said, I'm not averse to a little danger. I like to ride my bike to work in all weathers - even in blizzards and on snow and ice. One of the reasons I haven't been on a horse this year till now is that I broke my collar bone learning to ski earlier this year - but that's cool now as they put me back together with titanium :)

So when friends suggested that polo possibly wasn't the safest thing for an accident prone chap to do, that really just made me grin and want to do it more.

My main worry was that they would take one look at me and realise what kind of horseman I was and not let me near any of the ponies! However, it did say on the website that no previous riding experience was required (this made me suspicious that we would just be spending 2 hours on a wooden horse but the course summary suggested not).

So it turns out that the polo club is a lot more relaxed than the manege I go to for dressage lessons. An amusing indication was when we were told that it wasn't necessary to have special insurance to play polo as the polo association in the Netherlands had resisted having polo classified as a sport!

Anyway things start out with a quick presentation about polo. Karin the club manager gave this (and the rest of the clinic) but from some slides prepared by someone else - I'm not sure she'd seen them before to be honest. The first few were skipped through disinterestedly and can be summarized thusly - polo is posh, you need lots of horses and sometimes elephants, lots of champagne gets drunk at polo matches and polo is posh (I kinda knew this - but it still looks fun so I don't care)

Next were some slides about the 3 or 4 clubs in the Netherlands and the 3 or 4 major polo events (I actually went to the Amsterdam Polo Trophy last year in the Bos - it's free and quite fun and yes a lot of champagne was drunk). 
Amsterdam Polo Trophy, 2009
Then there were some slides about horses and rules and stuff - naturally this went in one ear and out the other as by this point I just wanted to start hitting balls with mallets!

We start out with little tiny mallets practicing stood on the ground - Karin has to remind me that it's not golf and that the ball will be to the side of me when I'm sat on a horse. Still this isn't so tough and we're soon smashing oddly shaped balls all over the place (polo balls are not exactly perfect spheres, they seem to have flattened sides which I don't think can only be explained by having been hit around - i was going to ask about this but forgot). Of course then we have to go wander around to collect the balls as next we will try the same thing with full size mallets while standing on plastic patio chairs!

We practice a few different shots. The mallet is always held in the right hand so there are basically 4 standard strokes - forehand on the right side (goes forward), backhand on the right side (goes backward), forehand on the left side (involves leaning over to the other side and hitting backward) and the backhand on the left side (again leaning around and this time hitting forward). The bigger mallets are much heavier! It quickly becomes apparent that you need to control the momentum - again this is a little like golf and it's necessary to let the mallet follow through in a natural arc as trying to stop it is pretty tough on the old arm. You see experienced players actually swing the mallet through in full circles after making hits to release the energy. So after some practice on these shot types it's time to grab some ponies :)

There are 5 of us there for the clinic but unfortunately only 3 ponies available so we'll have to take turns practicing while mounted. Karin asks who wants to be first and as is natural when volunteers are asked for, no one wants to stick there hand up... well except me :) So when it's noticed that 2 others also have their hard hats on already we have our first 3 volunteers and it's off to the stables.
Phew, I haven't forgotten everything and the pony I get is great (pictured above). She actually listens to me and is not the slightest bit twitchy - I feel bad that I can't remember her name but hey, I'm a guy ;)

Polo ponies are pretty cool, you have to give big signals as they're used to having their riders moving around a lot on top of them. They also get confused if you hold the reins with 2 hands so you have to stick to just the left hand. But once you get going they are very responsive, changing direction and speed very quickly (starting to sound like an auto review!) :)

I'd love to say that I was charging around smashing balls all over the place but the reality is I was mostly walking and trying to line up my shots. There was some trotting and even a little cantering but i'm not sure I actually made contact with the ball except while walking. I Don't have any pictures of myself on the horse so this blurry picture of one of my fellow students will have to do (I really have to work on my photography skills!).
I think she missed :o
This is great fun and i'm soon tired and hand my pony over to someone else to have a go but after a short while I get to have another go myself on a different pony (actually the one pictured above again). Don't remember the name of this one either (it was probably something dutch sounding) but she seems to be a lot more highly strung than the first. She definitely won't stay still as I mount her and once on I obviously pulled a little tightly on the reins as she walks backward into one of the plastic patio chairs. At first I'm not sure what's going on as she's jumping around and feels like she's about to rear up (apparently it looked that way from the ground too). I feel really bad when I realise she has a leg stuck in a chair and is trying to shake it off, not really sure what i can do to help so I just loosen the reins and make sure I don't fall off. Thankfully she clears the chair eventually and doesn't appear to be injured! We have a gentle walk and trot round and I hit very little as the legs and arms are now tired (you have to stand up in the stirrups and lean over to hit the ball which is both tricky and quite hard work after a while).

So that was my introduction to polo and I enjoyed it a great deal - I just wish it wasn't so pricey. The 2 hour clinic (which actually lasted a little longer I think) was €150 which I think is roughly 3 times the price of dressage lessons but then maybe 3 times the fun too :)

What else then. Well after such a nice afternoon there was a pleasant evening back in Amsterdam. As well as Sail 2010 the Grachtenfestival has been going on all week culminating in a concert on the Prinsengracht outside the Pullitzer hotel. Debussey, some opera and a pianist playing on a temporary stage floating in the canal surrounded by Amsterdammers in their boats and many others crowded on the bridges and the sides of the canal.
There's a canal under there somewhere
As I mentioned earlier, I'm not a big fan of crowds but it's nice to watch for an hour or so before my friend and I nip down the road for a few glasses of wine at Vyne. I enjoyed some very nice Puilly Fume and some Meersault while still able to hear most of the concert in the background. Life is good and it turns into a late night after another friend joins us :)

Monday now (Sunday was a blow out as I developed a chest infection that I think I caught visiting the London office Thursday and Friday) and I needed to visit the supermarket (still suffering and home from work). So remembering my shopping list fun here's what I dropped off - paying homage to the double rainbow meme.
Albert Heijn, Elandsgracht, 23rd August 2010, 1500

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