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Saturday, 24 December 2011

Polo day: Hockey on horseback & delicioso Argentine Asado.

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Go to a Boca Juniors football game

Suggested By: @ryanpetie in Brisbane, Australia and @Grayzie in Cork, Ireland
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Learn to play elite polo (on a horse)

Suggested By: Natalia La Bas in Howick, New Zealand
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Eat possibly the best steak in the world at La Cabrera

Suggested By: @ryanpetie in Brisbane, Australia
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Visit El Ateneo bookstore where first movie with sound was shown in 1929

Suggested By: @SpotCoolStuff
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Visit Recoleta cemetery the final resting place of Eva Peron (Evita)

Suggested By: Everitt Gay in Paraparaumu, New Zealand
      268 Votes VIEW POLL COMMENTS

One of the most common questions I'm asked when I meet someone here is: De donde es? (Where are you from?) To which I reply: Soy de Nueva Zelandia and normally their face lights up and the next word they say is: Rugby!! Well rugby is to New Zealand what Polo is to Argentina. They are the best polo players in the universe and their national team has not lost a championship since... wait for it... 1932.

Traditionally, polo is practised on the family estancias (ranches) all over the country. So you can imagine my excitement when I was invited out to Argentina Polo Day at "El Camino", a 20 acre farm located in Pilar (Buenos Aires Province) last Wednesday to learn to play polo.

 Empanada  Bbq

On arrival, I meet Ruben, a friendly and polo-passionate character who looks like he's just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren advertisement. The first thing he put in my hand after shaking it was a glass of Malbec Argentine wine and then an empanada, freshly from the coal fire bbq. He explained the format of the day, firstly a snack and refreshment, followed by watching an exhibition polo game and then anasado (traditional Argentine bbq) for lunch and finally it would be our turn to get on a horse and whack mallets.

56110-sdfsrdsf   Shinguards

A speedy polo summary:

As we sat on a shady spot on the side of the pitch, one of the English speaking hosts, Rosie explained the rules to me. Imagine playing hockey on horseback and you've got a pretty good picture of what polo is like. But it's much harder than hockey because there's no goalie and only three or four players per team.  Plus there's the fact you're trying to convince a four-legged animal to chase a ball and risk a mallet in the head for their efforts. (Even the horses wear shinguards.) The outdoor polo field is 274 metres long and 182 metres wide, the largest field in organised sport. The game I watched involved three people per team team and four periods, called chukkers of ten minutes each. They have to swap the horse every chukker so that means for six people you need 24 horses, no wonder it's a game for the rich and famous! Players are given handicaps like in Golf and they range from -3 (beginner) to 10 (pro). Some Argentine businessmen work full time jobs in Buenos Aires and then escape to the club on their lunch break, spend an hour in the saddle, before speeding back to the city before the markets close.


Argentina is considered the polo capital of the world with 20,000 registered polo players, more than ten times the number in the US and UK. As a player, skill is only a small part of the game as the horse does all of the leg-work. The importance of the horses is reflected in the money and time invested in them. Any polista (player) who owns his own horses, employs a series of petiseros (grooms) to take care of the horses 24/7. In Argentina there are more than 100,000 grooms who specifically care for horses.

I was at 'El Camino' with a lovely French family on their holidays and while it was their first time playing polo, they have horses back home that they regularly ride. Watching the players hurtling towards each other, mallet weapons flying, I began wondering if playing the dangerous sport of polo would be covered by my travel and health insurance!? My fear was sidetracked by a delicious asado of barbecued ribs, chorizo sausage, salad, slow-roasted veges and of course, Malbec vino. It's a beautiful outdoor dining setting and after a leisurely lunch we kitted up for the game ahead.

Lineup  Horse

The French family and I lined up for a team photo, leaning on our bamboo mallets and the next thing I knew I had mounted a horse and was on the field. We started with some stick-and-ball where you repeatedly practice trying to hit the ball along the ground. The coordination necessary to get your horse at the right distance from a moving target, leaning down, making contact with ball and not falling off the horse is quite immense. However after 10 minutes of gentle hitting (and missing!) the game begun and the groomsmen all joined in and showed us the ropes and reins of how to play. I'd like to say I was a pro instantly but like other high-skill sports like golf or surfing, there's a steep learning curve. However, the best bit for me was that even as a complete novice I was able to trot around the place, making occasional ball contact and enjoying the thrill of the game. The horses are incredibly well trained and after half an hour I wasn't even thinking about the riding part of it, just the chasing and hitting.

 Meplay  End

The Argentina Polo day crew love polo, they live and breathe it every day and are happy to share their passion and expertise with novices like me. The food, the exhibition match and the game we played made me feel a part of their world for a day. But never fear Meg (my bicycle), I'm not quite ready to swap my two wheels for four legs just yet!

If you're interested in having an Argentina Polo Day out, contact Celia and Ruben here.

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Latest Poll Results
New York: What will Indiana June do in the big apple?
21% Track down and visit Oliver Jeffers:
Renowned Children's storybook writer & illustrator
11% Walk the High Line:
A linear park built on a 1.45-mile section of the elevated NY Central Railroad 
11% Be a NYC detective for a day: 
Part game, theatre and tour to discover some of NYC's most off-the-beaten path spots
13% Explore the City Hall Subway Station: 
Abandoned & hidden from the public for 60 years
12% Flying trapeze class:
Hone her circus skills learning how to fly on a trapeze 
30% NZ Flag + Statue of Liberty:
Bodypaint the NZ flag on her body and go up the Statue of Liberty
2% Go to Queens and find a 'Nanny' sound-alike:
Video someone with the nanny accent saying "noo Zealand, i love that place"
Voting closed | 204 VOTES
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