Man is a social animal.
He does not conceive of his life except in a communal way and this drives him to seek the company of other creatures with whom he can establish social and emotional relationships. That is why it is rare to find families without pets. When we talk about four-legged friends or pets we immediately think of dogs and cats, sometimes even goldfish, rabbits and hamsters. But rarely do we consider one of the creatures that has been at the side of humans for centuries.
First simple beasts for work in the fields, then draught animals for carriages and carts or real means of transport on roads and battlefields. Today, fortunately, elegant and loyal companions in life, and partners in sporting competitions or psychological therapies. We are of course talking about horses: magnificent creatures that have accompanied us throughout our evolutionary process, creating an emotional bond of co-dependence and harmony that has evolved over time.
Our stories have intertwined out of convenience and fascination, but today they have become a true emotional and social co-dependency, so much so that, as we shall see, many sports have been developed to be practised in the saddle of our friends.
Discovering horse sports
Talking about this subject, it comes naturally to think of horse riding and equestrianism as the only disciplines in the sporting scene. The association is not entirely wrong, but it is certainly reductive, because under these two ‘umbrella terms’ there are countless activities ready to be discovered. Some of them we have already addressed in the article dedicated to the Parlanti brand, but what are other disciplines of this interesting sport?
The two disciplines of horse racing, united by the place where they are practised: the racecourse.
- Trotting, which takes its name from the diagonally synchronised gait of the horse’s legs. Although there are races in which the horse is ridden, the most common take place with the animal pulling a sulky (a two-wheeled micro-carriage) where the driver sits.
- Galloping, in which the horse assumes a more sustained gait, in tripartite movement. A race of pure speed, where the horse that arrives first wins. Certainly the best known, thanks to American films and TV shows, for the eagerness of bettors.
Finally, we have team sports.
- Polo, traditionally the most practised especially by the nobility in past centuries, involves two teams facing each other with the aim of throwing a ball into the opponents’ goal;
- Horse-ball, which can be considered a horseback variant of basketball. It is also an excellent pedagogical tool for young people who want to approach horse-riding;
- Team Penning and Cutting, two American sports based on cowboy work. The competitions consist of separating one or more marked calves from a herd.
In short, if horse-riding might have seemed like an activity with few facets before, I would say that we have more than a few details to prove otherwise. Let us therefore delve deeper into one of the most noble sports.
Getting to know the Pole, between history and regulations
There are various suppositions about the origin of the sport’s name. Some attribute it to the Greek term ‘πῶλος’, meaning ‘foal’, or to the more English ‘pole’, or ‘long stick’, which would have a logical connection with the Persian term ‘ﺻﻮﻟﺠﺎﻥ’ (ṣawlaǧān), which indicated the game’s club or a stick with a curved tip. What is certain, however, is the military origin of the pole, which originated as a cavalry drill. Indeed, one can see how the movement a player makes to hit the ball is very similar to a sabre slash.
The first polo match in history was recorded in 600 B.C. and was played between Turcomans and Persians. The game was later copied and modified by the Byzantines who made it very famous and practised it.
They called it ‘tzykanion‘, and as proof of the popularity of the sport, there are countless testimonies from the time that report the passion of basileus, the then title for the ruler and holder of power, such as John I of Trebizond and Alexander, both of whom were so engrossed in the activity that they caused themselves serious injuries or even death from exhaustion from playing too much.
This passion has continued to the present day, counting aristocrats and sovereigns among the most avid players: it was in fact the British crown royals who exported the game of polo to the territories of their colonies, throughout Europe and to Argentina. Prince Charles is still an avid player.
It is clear that polo is not a sport for everyone, unfortunately, due to the high costs involved in maintaining several horses. According to the rules, in fact, only one steed can be used per match. Nor is it advisable to overtire them during training to avoid health problems and fatigue.
Each game consists of a varying number of halves, called chukkers or chukkas, of seven minutes each with three-minute breaks during which you can replace your riding partner due to the intense exertion to which he or she is subjected. The players’ objective is to hit the ball with sticks and send it between the two goal posts of the opponent’s goal. As in other sports, whoever scores the most points during the playing time wins.
How to practice polo: equipment and clothing
In addition to having several horses, with the corresponding mounting structures (saddles, straps and stirrups), specific equipment is needed that allows freedom of movement during play but also provides protection for both horse and rider in possible direct collisions and shocks.
- Protective helmet
compulsory element to protect the head. Often supplemented by a face mask and goggles;
name of the protective jacket to be worn on the upper torso. The padding adheres perfectly to the body, guaranteeing greater protection without hindering the player’s movements. It is worn under the jersey of the team uniform;
- Team shirt or jersey
in a colour coordinated with one’s teammates, it must bear the player’s number according to the playing position;
designed to fit like a second layer of leather. They serve to keep the grip on the straps in all weather conditions and protect the hands from the cold during the coldest days;
- Knee pads
to protect against shocks;
- Riding boots
which serve both to protect the player’s leg from shocks and proximity to other horses and to maintain a firm grip on the sides of one’s nag. Each player is free to choose whichever one they prefer;
- Mallet or Mace
with a rubber grip and a strap to wrap around the thumb. The cue can be made of either bamboo or different composites. The length varies depending on the height of the horse but never exceeds 54 inches (137.16 cm);
made of plastic or wood, it must not be wider than 8.3 cm in diameter and weigh more than 113.4 grams.
Polo Boots, elegance in the saddle
We have seen how the choice of riding boots falls to the rider himself, who can choose the best model according to his needs and tastes. Despite the fact that polo is a niche sport, however, there are several brands that offer riding footwear specifically for this activity.
We have already met Parlanti in the interview with its General Manager. A brand that has been supplying high fashion and quality footwear to the entire equestrian world since 1987.
Obviously they could not miss a boot specifically for Polo: a true piece of craftsmanship handmade in bull leather and leather reinforcements. As with all their products, you can request a made-to-measure and fully customisable model, from colour to additional accessories. Stability, comfort and maximum performance for a Parlanti boot that never disappoints.
Then we have the proposals of Secchiari, another handcrafted reality that is born on the Italian peninsula.
Made in Italy and handmade: two labels that have always distinguished the brand and its collection of polo boots. Refinement and comfort born of the Italian shoemaking tradition evolved with the best and most innovative production techniques to respect the environment and the nature of the jockeys who will wear these unique boots.
Finally, there are the proposals of Fabbri and Selleria La Colombaia, sporty and elegant collections that guarantee the technical standards of their competitors but give a unique touch to the aesthetics of their products.
In short, quality is king.
Riding is not for everyone and we have seen how polo is even more elitist. A reality that is much more open to the glitz of a contemporary nobility rather than to a wide audience. But this does not stop us from admiring the fine craftsmanship -mainly Italian- of those who produce footwear for this discipline. True works of art produced by hand with love and dedication. A tradition that will always fascinate us.
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