Hazel Jackson – International polo player
Ever thought of giving polo a try? Hazel Jackson says it’s easier than you think.
What’s your greatest achievement?
Captaining the English ladies side and beating Argentina on home ground at the High Goal Ladies International in Cirencester in June 2016.
How did you get into polo?
When I was a kid at a local pony club along with my brother and sister and hand-me-down horses.
How old were you when you decided to make it your career?
At the age of 19, after I finished college, I went to work and play in New Zealand (Hawkes Bay, North Island) for six months. Then I did three seasons in Cheshire, with the winters in Argentina. It was hard work, but in Argentina I managed to get a really good job for a lady, Hana Grill, and I’m still working for her now.
Where do you spend most of your time… the UK or abroad?
I spend about four months a year in Argentina, around six in England and around two playing tournaments in other countries such as Barbados, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, France, Texas and sometimes Africa.
It all sounds quite glamourous.
Yes, it is… Polo tournaments are always in stunning locations and there’s a fair bit of money involved.
Where is your favourite place to play polo?
I love Barbados. There are three main polo clubs (plus private fields on top), the people are really hospitable and the horses are lovely. Next year I get to go there twice, for the annual Battle of the Sexes tournament and a ladies tournament as well.
What is the most difficult thing about playing polo?
Getting the money to buy a decent string of horses — and it’s expensive to keep them, too.
How many horses do you own?
I run a string of eight but I only own three… My boss here — Roger White of Coombe Place at Overton Farm, Sway, New Forest — gives me five. You ideally need own your own string.
So how much do you have to pay for a decent polo pony?
Anywhere from £5,000 up to £200,000, with an average good horse costing £10k-£15k.
You could get an older horse (they’re at their peak at around eight to nine years old) with a few injuries for cheaper, or get one off the race track and retrain it.
What qualities do you look for in a polo pony?
We like them to be around 15.2hh and tend to go for the Irish and English thoroughbreds. A polo pony needs to be fast, very agile and have a good mouth so that it stops dead and works from the back end. We also like them to be ‘grunty’ — solid and powerful, capable of sustaining a few bashes in a ride off.
Is there one horse that stands out?
Isla, who’s based in England — she’s getting on a bit but she’s a machine.
You rarely travel horses abroad in polo, is it difficult to ride horses that you’ve never ridden before?
No. They’re really well trained and, as I typically ride five horses a game, I must have ridden hundreds of horses since I was 19, it’s natural.
Why so many horses?
Polo is incredibly demanding and strenuous on a horse which is why one horse is only officially allowed to play two chukkas with a break in between. I’d take five horses and try to ride five minutes on each horse. At the top tournaments in Argentina, some players would take 12-14 horses to a game with just three minutes on a horse before a break to get the best out of them.
That’s a lot of horses to keep fit…
Yes I can ride seven or eight horses a day singling (one at a time). They’re schooled to keep them finely tuned, but it’s common to ride one and lead up to four when you’re doing cardio work (45-60 minutes of walking and trotting). I’m doing that at the moment, while I’m chatting to you…
And what else do you do get them ready to compete?
The day before a game — and sometimes even on the morning of game days — we give them 10 minutes flat out for a change of air.
How do you improve your game?
My boyfriend, Ivan Gaona, an Argentinian polo player, has taught me a lot. I have also gained a lot watching video feedback of matches and taking advice from different people. Stick and ball practicing is essential and playing with players that are much better than me helps.
And is it a level playing field for men and women?
General men are naturally stronger and that gives them a slight advantage but, in general, it’s to do with the horses… it depends how well mounted you are.
What’s your ultimate goal?
To own a solid string of horses and to be one of the best female players in the world playing any 15 or 18 goal tournament.
What would you say to others considering to give polo a try?
It’s great fun and much more accessible than people think. And if you’re willing to work hard, it’s a great profession. There are plenty of schools around with safe horses, but beware… it’s very addictive!
And you’re 26, do you have to be young?
Obviously it’s good to be fit, but you can learn the sport when you are older and I think the oldest polo player is in their eighties!
Why Horse Scout?
The social media side is great, that you can follow other riders and horses.
Interview by Sam Lewis, Horse Scout inhouse Journalist & PR, August/September 2016
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