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CHUKKERS IN CHINA with Aemilia Phillips
July 24, 2015
CHUKKERS IN CHINA: Tournament Off to a Fast Start in More Ways Than One
By Aemilia Phillips blogging exclusively for PSpolo.com
Friday, July 24, 2015 :: Posted 08:42:00 AM EDT


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Tianjin, China - July 24, 2015 – Today I got off to a flying start (but not the usual kind) at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club, where six polo teams from top universities in the U.S. and U.K. are competing in the Metropolitan Intervarsity Tournament.

Just before the opening game between Yale and Oxford, I rode onto the field with the other team captains for a ceremony. I was on a mid-sized chestnut mare that belonged to Oxford. Halfway through the salute she decided she really didn’t like the flags being waved in front of us. She pricked her ears forward and started dancing left and right. I managed to stay in position through the ceremony, but afterward I was the first rider off the field, breaking formation at a pretty fast-paced canter. Hopefully the whole thing didn’t look too bad. At least I didn’t fall off, and as the saying goes, tomorrow’s another day. (It better be; Harvard plays our first game then.)

© Aemilia Phillips/Phelps Media Group: Chukkers in China: opening salute with team captainsOpening salute with team captains. Photo: Aemilia Phillips/Phelps Media Group.

Today’s game was fast from the get-go. Yale was up at the opening bowl in with two-and-a-half goals due to handicap, but Oxford quickly got on the scoreboard, thanks to a penalty 3.  Oxford’s back, Luis Maddison, took off on a long run, dribbling the ball down the field and through the goal posts to tie the score at the end of the first chukker. Yale’s captain, Aurora Edington, scored on a penalty to tighten the spread to 4-3, with Oxford leading at the half.  

Oxford continued to dominate the second half, while Yale struggled to attempt a comeback. Oxford scored two penalties right in front of the Yale goal, giving Yale quite the uphill battle. Yale couldn’t catch up, losing to Oxford 10-3.

The whole game, I was itching to get in the action. The field looked perfect, the game was fast and the horses strong. Tomorrow I’ll have my chance. I’ll be playing the number 1 position and have been working hard to familiarize myself with it. I’m comfortable in the front as the offensive player, a spot I hold whenever Harvard competes as a coed outdoor team. But during the season, playing on the women’s team, I’m the back at number 3. It’s a switch from defense to offense, and there are changes in almost all aspects of the game, from position to footing to game strategy.

© Aemilia Phillips/Phelps Media Group: Chukkers in China: Oxford vs. YaleAt the Oxford vs. Yale game. Photo: Aemilia Phillips/Phelps Media Group.

Changes asides, I’m feeling confident that the past few months I’ve spent working with the Harvard team – and having an amazing opportunity to take private lessons with Joey Casey at Palm City Polo Club in Boynton Beach, Florida – have prepared me for the outdoor game.

Judging by today’s game, the ambiance will be amazing. The pristine field is the nicest I’ve ever seen, and the viewing stands made of the same polished stone as the hotel. Trays of finger food, pastries, coffee and tea lined the areas just behind the seats. Everything is top-notch here – and that includes the accommodations for the horses.

Earlier today we ventured out and wandered around the massive stable complex. About 15 minutes from the hotel and with over 200 imported horses, the rows of multiple barns stretched out for an incredible distance. A couple of grooms taking sets walked past, hooves clattering on the stone walkways between the various barns. Each barn held about 20 horses – and there were a ton of barns. I was absolutely blown away by the size of the operation; taking care of our 18 horses back in Boston often seems like it should be a full-time job, so I can’t even imagine what it takes to organize a facility over 10 times larger.

© Aemilia Phillips/Phelps Media Group: Chukkers in China: StablesThis is what stabling for 200 horses looks like. Photo: Aemilia Phillips/Phelps Media Group.

Today was Harvard’s turn to help with the Junior Equestrian and Polo Program (JEPP), a summer camp for local Chinese kids who come to the Metropolitan Polo Club to learn riding, polo and equine management skills. Each team will volunteer for at least two mornings of the tournament, creating a cross-cultural polo exchange.

There were two groups of kids in the full-size indoor arena, and we worked with each for half an hour. The first group climbed up onto wooden horses, and the second practiced with foot mallets. Ranging in age from about 6 to 14, most spoke some English. At least I think they did. The kids seemed to understand what we were saying about mallet positioning, making the right adjustments and then promptly turning around and giggling to each other in rapid Chinese.

I first worked with a tall, skinny 12-year-old named Elaine. She had a really nice half swing and was advanced enough to grasp what I was telling her about keeping her mallet in the same plane on the side of her horse instead of swinging back over the horse’s rear end. However, she didn’t have much arm strength, and after just a few shots her arm was shaking as she lifted the 51” mallet back for a full swing. But she worked hard and got off a good enough shot that she was smiling when she dismounted.

© Aemilia Phillips/Phelps Media Group: Chukkers in China: SetsA set going out. Photo: Aemilia Phillips/Phelps Media Group.

*****

Harvard University Polo Women's Captain Aemilia Phillips is spending the summer before her senior year as a writer for Phelps Media Group. Follow her blog, “Chukkers in China,” about the experiences of an intercollegiate polo player competing abroad, exclusively on PSpolo.com 

© Lauren Baker/Phelps Media Group: Aemilia Phillips headshot in helmetAemilia Phillips


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