How did polo come all the way from Persia to Thailand?by Alexander Eeckhout
From Persia to India to Great Britain to Argentina to Thailand. Polo has definitely traveled a good deal of miles before conquering the world. The game of kings originated in Persia around 500 BC, and its popularity has been growing ever since. It went from Persia to India, where the English discovered it and spread it across the world. And, of course, when the game reached the Argentinian gauchos, they were eager to pick it up. Since then some the best players in the world have come from this Latin American country.
The oldest polo club in the world is the Calcutta Polo Club in India—a British club in an Asian country. And as polo’s popularity grew, this international East-meets-West cocktail recipe was savored in Thailand as well.
Polo was first played in Thailand by English sportsmen from Penang as a royal command performance before King Rama VII. When Franklin Hurst got permission to set up a racetrack and sports field in Bangkok (now known as the Royal Bangkok Sports Club), polo had found its first location in Thailand. When the Second World War came along, many expatriates—key to the game’s survival in Thailand—had to leave the country, and the sport’s popularity decreased. The game saw a resurgence during the 1990s and during the 13th Asian Games in Bangkok in 1998, when things really took off for polo in Thailand. Awareness was raised, and the game gained unprecedented support when the Thai polo team won a gold medal during the three-day event, and a bronze medal in dressage. This was the work of many dedicated expatriates investing time and passion into developing the game and culture in Thailand, making Thailand the leading nation for polo in Southeast Asia.
If you wonder what polo’s appeal is, apart from the unique and exciting feeling of competing for a ball while racing a horse at an incredible speed, Santiago Bachmann, Argentinian manager and vet of the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club, tells us that it’s about traveling to other countries to play other teams, about friendships, and creating bonds. Agustin Arestizabal, manager of Polo Escape, says that next to the thrill of riding amazing horses, one has to be focused and willing to constantly improve his or her skills.
Much like any other sport, polo is larger than the game played out on the field—it’s about people creating a community over a shared love of horses, sports, and simply enjoying each other’s company.
The Thai Polo & Equestrian Club (●www.thai-polo-club.com)is one of Thailand’s most prominent polo clubs. Set among wooded hills, the club overlooks the Gulf of Thailand and boasts high-quality facilities attracting many local and international players. The Thai Polo Open hosted at the club, for example, attracts six to eight teams every year. The club opened in 2005 in Pattaya and is set over 250 hectares. It has three international-standard, full-sized fields, two practice grounds, stabling for over 250 horses, paddocks, and approximately 80 horses for the use of members. The staff includes vets, farriers and a number of Thai assistants. Renowned Australian course designer Wayne Copping was recruited in 2007 to create an international standard cross-country course suitable for the Southeast Asian Games. Copping called the course at the club one of the best cross-country courses in Asia. When an endurance course and an International Derby facility were added to the fields, the name was changed to Thai Polo & Equestrian Club.
Another notable polo club in Thailand is Polo Escape (●www.poloescape.com). The club was established in 2007 by two sisters, Robin and Susy Lourvanij, both of whom were actively involved in the Thailand Polo Association. They have all the facilities needed, such as a full-size polo field as well as practice fields and a fully equipped veterinary, and it’s the only facility in Thailand that has its own breeding program.
Queen’s Cup St. Regis Pink Polo
As polo’s popularity is growing, a number of polo cups take place in Thailand. One of them is the Queen’s Cup St. Regis Pink Polo, organized by and taking place at the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club in Chonburi. The Pink Polo Cup is a charitable ladies’ polo tournament that has been taking place for a number of years, and aims to raise funds to support King Chulalongkorn Hospital’s Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer. The final polo match saw Paisano Dragons team win this year, with a 3-2 score against the Maple Leaf team.
This glamorous and high-octane ladies’ polo tournament was the opener for the Thai polo season and is organized by Harald Link, chairman of B. Grimm Group, and Nunthinee Tanner. Tanner is the first woman to play polo in Thailand, and is the co-owner of the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club. As usual, most of the guests were sporting pink clothing to show their support for the charity; one of those guests was HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, who presided over the event. The St. Regis Bangkok served its traditional St. Regis Afternoon Tea to its guests, resulting in a pleasurable and delicious afternoon.