Rural folk often have what it takes to get around polo's mounting costs, writes Jill Galloway.
Polo is known as the Sport of Kings and it's easy to see why - it costs an arm and a leg to play.
You need at least four horses that are fit and can stop quickly and turn on a dime.
Then players need a big truck to take them throughout the country.
Established more than 100 years ago, the Rangitikei Polo Club is one of the oldest sports clubs in Manawatu.
Club president Douglas Duncan says most clubs are rural.
"It would be expensive if you were starting out with everything. But most people get horses they train. A horse has to have a good temperament, be agile - people pick them up from race trials or perhaps a station horse. And rural people usually already have a truck."
He says that makes it much less expensive.
An average polo pony is around 15 hands tall, a small horse, and a trained polo pony goes for $5000 to $10,000.
Mr Duncan says the Rangitikei club has the youngest rider in the competitions - a 15-year-old - and, while not competing in this week's Saville Cup national club competition, a 70-year-old is still riding with the club.
"But most people retire at about 60 years of age."
There are about 20 playing members, and 40 to 50 supporting members, he says.
Heather Montgomery, who helps out at the club, says the Saville Cup used to be held in February, but has been brought forward so that players who have early overseas contracts can play, rather than heading abroad.
Clubs include Rangitikei, Hawke's Bay, Wanstead, Kihikihi (near Te Awamutu), Auckland, Cambridge, Blenheim, Christchurch and South Canterbury.
The season runs from the beginning of November to the end of March, with polo being played every weekend. Many clubs have overseas players.
Miss Montgomery says countries known for their polo include Britain, India, Argentina and South Africa, and the sport is growing in Mongolia.
It is also strong in Australia.
Miss Montgomery says people need at least four sound horses.
"One for each seven-minute chukka.
"The horses are going fast, stopping and turning all the time, so they do get tired.
"It's not like a racehorse, which has to go fast in a straight line."
Miss Montgomery says many people have more than four horses; the most she has heard of is 16.
Increased road-user charges have hit the owners of heavy polo trucks hard, making the sport even more expensive, she says.
In most cases, feeding, grooming and keeping polo ponies fit is a big job.
"Most people have a groom, who rides the polo horses for fitness in the morning then, after work, the owner might do some stick and ball work with their horses, and the grooms wash them down."
The Rangitikei Polo Club grounds are on Tangimoana Rd and at the northern end of Bulls, off State Highway 1.
If you are interested in giving the sport a go or just want to turn up for a bite to eat and to see what polo is all about, you are more than welcome, says Mr Duncan. He is on 021 242 5915 and welcomes calls.
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