Preparing polo ponies in Argentina
Jennifer Brown pampeano
Getting a polo pony ready for play takes the novice about 30 minutes to prepare. Skilled Argentine grooms, 'petiseros', take immense pride in their speed and skill, reckoning on less than that time to prepare a string of ponies.
There is plenty of tack involved, each set adding an extra 16-18 kilos to the pony, depending on the saddle type in particular. An Argentine-style polo saddle is lighter and smaller than its American style cousin, with smaller saddle flaps and a more petite seat. The (highly absorbent) pampa saddle blankets weigh 1.5 kilos when dry - of course, heavier after a sweaty match. Add to this two girths, buffalo stirrup leathers and stainless steel stirrups (Argentines prefer the platform irons as seen on Pampita below; English players generally opt for the four bar polo stirrups). Then there is a breastplate, usually a standing martingale, the bridle comprising two sets of reins (one of which may be a set of runners attached to the saddle to give greater control); a moderately severe bit -most typically gags or pelhams.
Polo bandages may appear simple, but there is a knack; pressure must be limited at the back of the leg so as not to affect the tendon; achieving a secure tight fit means more pressure is applied on the front. Tendon boots are often used on the forelegs for further protection from the hind legs and other horses when riding off etc.
The pony's hair is either tied up or removed; the mane is trimmed to its roots to avoid getting caught. Getting the tail ready is moderately time consuming; it is plaited erstwhile leaving a small chunk of hair hanging (see below), later used to tie the plait back up on itself -meaning that bandage tape or other secures aren't necessary at all. In practice, bandage tape is used for additional security -a pony whose tail becomes unfastened during play halts the match.
After play, the ponies are untacked and invariably hosed down with cold water, in particular their legs to minimise the risk of swelling and bruising. Players, owners and grooms participate in the unifying drinking of mate.
Polo club owner, Juan Carlos, wearing the Sereno pampeano polo belt.