When we talk about horse polo, we usually think of the colonials in places like India. I watched my first polo match in Gilgit in Pakistan about 15 years ago. It was a thrilling game played out on a dusty pitch surrounded on all four sides by enthusiastic locals. For me growing up, I saw it as mainly the chosen game of the British royal family and the elite. It is not the kind of sport that the average person could try due to the high costs of keeping the horses. That is why I was surprised that they not only play horse polo in Thailand but they also have dedicated grounds for this. At the weekend I went to watch a polo match at the VR Sports Club in Samut Prakan.
Polo was first introduced into Thailand during the reign of King Rama VII. He had organized a demonstration game played by English people from Penang. A polo club was later formed but it was mainly for the expat communities and the social elite in Thailand. However, the public started to show some interest when the Thailand team won a gold at the Asian Games in 1998. The Polo Association was founded in the same year and then went national in 2004 as the Thailand Polo Association. The major tournament held in Thailand is the Thailand Polo King’s Cup which has teams attending from Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The game is played on a field which is 300 yards long by 200 yards wide. At each end there are two posts that act as the goal. In some ways it is like football but there are no goalkeepers. There are also frequent breaks. We were only three minutes into the the first half when the time was halted so that two players could leave the field to change their horses. In football, of course, it would be the players who would be changed. The match is also split up into 7 minute long units called a “chukka”. The match that I watched had a total of 6 chukkas. Three in each half with a three minute break in-between each chukka. One final rule that I found confusing at first was that every time a goal was scored they would switch directions. So, you really need to pay attention!
It was a fast moving game despite all the breaks. I think for most of the spectators the day was more of a social event than a chance to watch the game. There were many hi-so ladies all dressed up with colourful dresses and outlandish hats. Many of the photographers there took more photos of the crowd than the horses in the match. After all, there were many top actresses as well as Miss Thailand contestants. Everyone who was anyone was there. For myself, I preferred watching the game from behind one of the goal posts. Though, as you can see from this photo you have to be quick on your feet as these horses don’t exactly have brakes! I had to quickly jump to one side after this goal was scored.
I have posted some more pictures in our Samut Prakan Photo Album over at www.paknamphotos.com.