When Norway’s first polo match on grass, NORWEGIAN POLO OPEN 2016, was held last weekend, there was neither a lack of sportsmanship nor the frames surrounding the entire event.
Text and photo by Therese Alhaug.
On the ground, the mallets are organized with military precision. The grass field, in which the match is to take place, has been neatly cut and tended for to the point where it looks more like a golf course than a horse track. Two red poles mark the goal in ‘our end of the course,’ and the other end is barely visible to the human eye. There’s no doubt that these horses and riders alike, have to be in good shape to be able to compete two rounds over such long distances.
The VIP tent is well placed alongside the field inaugurated with a red carpet, and welcomes in those who have arrived early and particularly well-dressed guests – serving them a champagne as a welcome. A Polo match has to represent luxury and the Norwegian Polo Open is no exception by any means. However, behind all the luxury everyone knows the purpose of this very match is to collect money for the Norwegian cancer charity organisation. Furthermore, the organisers themselves, Thea Louise Musæus May and Nick May, have worked exceptionally hard to keep their 15 polo horses going in a relatively new, yet well-driven club that started out a few years ago, aiming to function as both a club and an academy that welcomes all levels of interest from players and spectators. As horse people know, everything is possible when your passion becomes your career – and thats how The Norwegian Polo Club was born.
The NORWEGIAN POLO OPEN has attracted the world’s best players to this giant event. Arriving from New Zealand and Australia international players have come to play side by side with Norwegian Polo Clubs local players. In the café, I run into one of them, namely New Zealander Ross Aisnley. Aisnley grew up in New South Wales in Australia where he spent most of his time riding horses. There is barely an equestrian discipline he hasn’t competed in, with his accolades ranging from winning national show jumping competitions to landing a spot on the national polo cross team.
“The game is strategic and full of excitement,” Aisnley says as he reveals that he actually started his equestrian career as a show jumper.
It wasn’t until long into adulthood that Ross started playing polo, and he has since then played polo all over the world with a 6 in handicap. Together with his brother Kel, he moved to New Zealand where they breed and train young polo horses. Their horses are played all over the world by the world’s best polo players. Today, at Kubberød farm south of Oslo, he is here to play for a Norwegian audience.
“I love being here in Norway, the weather is so fresh and lovely” he exclaims. The thermometer is currently at 20 degrees Celsius, so he is not wrong in that observation. The have promoters hit the jackpot in terms of the weather as Norwegian weather tends to be rather unpredictable.
“It couldn’t get better,” I say as I explain that in the winter season we probably will not get this lucky. As I speak of the Norwegian winter Ainsley’s face lights up with a childlike joy: “Remember, you guys get to play on the snow,” he says with a big smile. That remark marks the end of our conversation as with a glance at his watch decides it is time to change into white jodhpurs and get ready for the match.
The tent has by now been filled up with cocktail dressed guests. Canapés are being served along with champagne and the tent is buzzing with conversation. As we wait for the match to start I go over to catch up with Thea and Nick, asking them to tell me more about their club.
“This is the first time in Norwegian history that a polo match has been played on grass. Polo is very significant to us and our members and we wish to share this passion with everyone who wants to experience this magnificent sport, ” Thea says enthusiastically.
Up until spring 2016 the club has played indoors, but thanks to the initiative and support of Kubberød stables, the club can also play outdoors on the grass. Thea is very happy about this possibility.
“Now we can play and host matches all year round around. We are so grateful for this amazing place which enables us to develop and expand the polo sport in Norway. We even have a view of the ocean, ” Thea says about the club which also arranges trips to England, Argentina and Spain and invites foreign instructors to play so that they can uphold an international standard.
It all started back in 2013, when a wish of having their own polo club in Norway became a reality. Nick was already an experienced polo player and instructor when he met Thea who was studying in England at the time. Thea got introduced to polo through her studies in England, and when a romance started to blossom between the two, they took the road to Norway and founded the Norwegian Polo Club. Membership expanded rapidly from 4 to 15 and today, and today there’s been more than 200 player’s playing polo on their 15 horses. Amongst those were four children who got to play their first game this weekend in front of an enthusiastic audience.
The match begins. Immediately there is no doubt that the Norwegian player, Johan Backe, is amongst the audience favourites. Johan started playing polo in 2013, prior to this he had barely even ridden a horse. Today, he is an eager polo player, an excellent rider, and a big support for Norwegian Polo Club. It is also thanks to Johan that the club today can play on the grass and borrow the wonderful clubhouse, Thea reveals.
Club owner Nick May is standing on a wooden box, commentating on what is happening in the game. The audience slowly starts to migrate towards the field as the tension rises. The horses gallop from one end to another and a large bang echoes every time the mallet hits the ball. It is a fast paced game with the ball flying from one end to another in a matter of mere seconds. Along the field, families have set up picnics and are enjoying watching the game with blankets and food baskets. They watch the game intently with binoculars. A break and a new set begin. The atmosphere is superb as the winning team gets they deserved “champagne-shower” in the warm summer weather. After the game champagne is popped on the podium, the mood is high and the players are celebrated as the after-party begins.
Therese is the editor of Equilife, and is truly dedicated to equestrian sports and horses. She started riding as a little girl, and enjoys her free time with her two horses back home. Portrait interview is her favorite topic, as it has the gift to inspire others through peoples stories, knowledge, training and general life-philosophy, and certainly, their lives with horses.