We’re recruiting ambassadors from the world of sport and fitness to help spread the word about Hoops Connect. Our latest team member is Jack Richardson, a 25-year-old whose talents have seen him rise to the top of the professional polo scene in this country and around the world. We sat down for a chat with Jack to find out a little more about a sport that is at the same time quintessentially English yet unplayed by the majority of the population.
Hi Jack, welcome to Hoops!
Thank you very much, nice to be here!
Can you start by telling our readers how you got into polo?
I live in the country in Sussex and I used to just ride around on a pony when I was younger.
I actually got into Pony Club, which is where all the children start out riding and down here you can learn to play polo at the same time.
My dad used to play a bit as well, so through him and through being around it at Pony Club, I just sort of fell into it.
Hopefully you didn’t do too much falling! When did you know you wanted to play polo as a career?
I wanted to make it my career basically from when I started playing – I loved it.
Ever since I was a little boy I wanted to become a really good polo player, like most little boys who play football or cricket or whatever. Luckily it’s worked out for me.
So how does someone like yourself progress from riding ponies to playing the sport competitively?
There are age group categories all the way up to under-21s, but you can get started playing with adults whenever you want.
I was 10 when I first played with adults, at a very low level, so I was pushed into it pretty quick. It just depends on how good you are to how quickly you progress.
There are loads of tournaments around the country, but the thing is with polo is that there’s lots of different levels of the game, depending on what your handicap is and how good you are.
You have a handicap like you do in golf, so it goes from -2 goals to 10 goals, with -2 being the worst. You have four people on a team, and say you wanted to go play the top tournament in England, the tournament is 22 goals, so the four players will add up to that 22.
That’s what keeps it fair – just like golfers playing with their handicaps.
— Jack Richardson (@richardsonjmn1) September 18, 2017
That makes sense! So how do you keep yourself busy all year – surely you don’t get the horses out in the winter?
I play here in the UK from April till the middle of September, that’s our season in England. Then it depends where I get offered jobs.
A lot of players now are going over to Argentina from October to Christmas, that’s their main season.
Then after that America have a big season, Australia and New Zealand do, a lot of people go and play in India, South Africa – you can literally go and play anywhere now.
I’ve been really lucky to travel with the sport, I’ve played on every continent now and met some amazing people as well. It’s been really, really good fun.
That doesn’t sound like a bad way to make a living!
Over in China I played the snow polo World Cup that they put on over there, which is quite funny.
It doesn’t actually snow there but it is very cold, so they spray water onto the surface to create ice and then they spray fake snow onto the ice.
But the main country, the best country for polo is Argentina. They have all the best stadiums, the best players. Their lifestyle suits polo perfectly – it’s a really big country, they have loads of horses and polo is just a huge sport there.
I think it’s their third biggest sport after football and rugby. All the top players are celebrities, and they even have a polo show on ESPN there!
— Hoops Connect (@hoops_app) September 8, 2017
Is it an easy sport to get involved in?
To get started if you’re going for lessons or just looking for a quick, fun game, you don’t have to actually own a horse, the clubs have horses that you can practice with.
To get started in polo it isn’t actually that difficult. It’s only if you start taking it seriously that you need to have your own horse, which is obviously more difficult.
Literally just find your local club, and ring up then go down for a lesson. Or if you want to check it out first, get down and watch.
Everyone thinks it’s very expensive to be associated with, but you can watch a game of polo for a tenner, it’s a lot cheaper than going watching top football and rugby matches.
Any advice for any budding polo stars of the future who may be reading?
Don’t be afraid! Confidence on a horse is important, then you need to have a bit of hand-eye co-ordination, but it’s just like any sport – if you practice you’re going to get better. But if you’re scared of horses it probably isn’t the sport for you…
A lot of people think that polo is this grand sport that people can’t get involved in, that it’s very upper-class and high-end – and it does have that side to it – but in the grassroots you can just to go and play for fun, it’s just like any other sport.
Everybody can get involved. If you’re keen then you should definitely try it out because it is one of the most fun sports out there – to watch and to play.
Hoops is now available in app stores, so you can use us to find opportunities for any sport or fitness activity you can think of. Simply click here to download the app for Android, and here for iOS – or search for Hoops Connect.
Just because Hoops is out, it doesn’t mean that our work ends. In fact, it’s only just beginning. So, if you want to keep up with how we’re driving the app forwards, click here to subscribe to our emails, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Medium and even on Spotify. We’re everywhere, and hopefully we’ll be on your phone soon too!