The Soweto Polo Cup – a first in an African township

The Soweto Polo Cup – a first in an African township

The Soweto Polo Cup will be the first ever polo event to be hosted in a township in Africa. Polo, much like the township Soweto, are both rich in history and flair, and what best way to showcase this by fusing both iconic symbols to create a memorable world class experience.

The inaugural event, was birthed by Hloni Mathlare and Mr Enos Mafokate, the first black show-jumper in Africa and Europe, as a way to introduce an elegant experience to a new market. Soweto is a symbol of the new South Africa: an entertainment destination with an electrifying vibe for local residents and surbabian socialites.

The event will be hosted at the newly refurbished Soweto Equestrian Centre on the 28th of October 2017 and is not only aimed at being a world class event, to rival prestigious equestrian events but to also introduce the lifestyle element of Polo to the township market as well as to develop the sport of Polo in the township.

This year’s theme, “What Jo’burg means to ME” is perfect for the flagship event that intends to bridge a huge gap in Soweto and much like the City of Johannesburg it allows the masses access to a High-End lifestyle in an area they love and which means so much to them.

The Soweto Equestrian Centre is located in the heart of the bustling township of Rockville, Soweto and is home to 15 horses, 8 kids that compete in Show-Jumping as well as a further 12 kids who compete in vaulting. The Soweto Equestrian Centre, has been operating on 28 acres of land for 10 years and The Polo Cup affords a great opportunity to commemorate this great milestone.

The centre has 4 objectives:

#1 – To open the elite world of equestrian sports to people who would never, otherwise had this chance.
#2 – To train people in the skills required in the equestrian industry.
#3 – To improve the welfare of the cart horses in Soweto and the surrounding areas and educate their owners in the care of the horses.
#4 – To get disabled children on horses so they can experience the benefits of riding.

How does Polo work?
Polo is an equestrian ball game where teams made up of four people a side take to horseback, don a stick, and try and drive a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet.

It is game of mettle, strength and agility, between man (or woman) and horse – where they are required to work in perfect unison to secure victory. Traditional polo is played on a grass field, but at this year’s VW Soweto Polo Cup the game will be the first played in a township and the first played on a sand arena in the same fashion as the growing in popularity arena polo.

Greg Wharram from Equestrian House, equestrian clothing brand partner for the VW Soweto Polo Cup shares some insights into the game, its origins and some of the terminology you need to get your head around before joining us on the day.

The game
A polo game can last up to two hours and the periods the game is played over is divided into four to six sections which are called chukkas. Each chukka lasts about seven minutes of total game play. The name polo is said to have been derived from the Balti word “pulu”, meaning ball.

Polo ponies
The horses used in polo are called polo ponies. But a pony is actually the name for a smaller horse (under 14.2 hands). Polo ponies are actually full sized horses, while some are smaller because that makes them more agile, they can reach over 16 hands. Hands is what we measure a horse in.

Quality ponies
What makes a good polo pony? Not all horses are created equal and polo ponies tend to be leaner and lighter than most sports horses. They are instead of power and size, selected for speed, stamina, agility and manoeuvrability. They also need to be fairly bombproof, equestrians will tell you that horses are scared of two things, things that move and things that don’t move – a polo pony needs to be unphased by the crowd, or the game, or the excitement – hence we call them bombproof. Every player has more than one horse in a match, which they can replace when the ponies get tired between chukkas. The pony’s mane is most often roached (hogged), and its tail is docked or braided so that it will not snag the rider’s mallet.

Players
There are four players a side and they are simply called number one, number two, number three and number four – it is a game that is played right handed. Number One is an offence-oriented position and covers the opposing sides number four. Number Two is also an offensive position who is required to surge through and score or pass to number one while defending the opposing sides number three. Number Three is called the tactical leader and must be a long powerful hitter to feed balls to Number Two and Number One as well as maintaining a solid defence. Number Four is primary defence and try and prevent scoring, they need to help number three of their team to get the ball out to score.

Equipment
Each player wears a polo helmet with face guard, they have a polo mallet and the game has one ball. Players also wear kneepads, riding boots to below the knee, white breeches and a shirt in their team colours.

Polo saddle
The saddle used in polo is an English saddle which is a close contact saddle that looks like those used by showjumpers – no western horns as there is no roping in polo! Saddles normally have a breastplate that fits around the horse chest and onto the saddle so that the saddle doesn’t slip.

The field
Traditional polo fields are 270 by 150 m which is about the size of six soccer fields. However arena polo fields (this is a different type of polo) is played in a field the size of 96 x 46 metres, similar to the size of an arena used by other equestrian sports such as showjumping.

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