Equine sports truly fascinate me due to the inspirational relationship between humans and horses, and whenever I have the chance, I take the opportunity to ride, practice or at least visit the nearest polo club when I travel. One of the enduring memories of my Dad is when he took me up to Baguio City, the Philippines’ summer capital, I was put on a horse and without much instruction, went on a ride around an arena. Years later, I would ride on the steppes of Mongolia, in Iceland, in Malta and in Denmark, the latter where I tried my hand on a polo pony for the first time north of Copenhagen. I wanted to drop by the Norwegian Polo Club in December 2015 but schedules did not fit in with my plans. Polo is probably one of the oldest recorded team sports in history, being played in ancient Persia over 2500 years ago. Thought of as a sport created by Central Asian tribes, it became a training method for the King’s elite cavalry. It’s not unusual that polo and the military have a close relationship. From the 19th-20th century, militaries played polo in Europe, the United States, Malta, the Philippines and Panama for example, years before that mounted armies roamed all throughout Asia and brought polo with them, which was soon adopted as a pastime by emperors, kings, shahs, sultans, khans and caliphs. It was because of this the sport became known everywhere as “the game of kings.”
In 2016, we decided to drop by the Magyar Polo Club (also known as Hungarian Polo Club) when we visited gorgeous Budapest during our European tour. Coincidentally, the almost mythical history of the hussar came to my mind when I think of Hungary (the hussar is still adopted by some countries and some are still quite active in polo). The Hungarian Polo Club is the country’s largest and most prestigious polo club with a history dating back to 1896 when the first known polo match was played in the capital organised by Geza Andrassy. In 1999, the sport continued on to Tabajd, a small village, about 45 minutes to an hour’s drive outside Budapest, which boasts 2 international standard polo fields, 2 stick and ball grounds, stables, pony hires, and a clubhouse among others.
We arrived at the club at exactly 11am and were met by one of the club’s top Argentinian players - Edgardo Llambi. Aside from football, Argentines follow polo with a fiery passion owing perhaps to the tradition and history of the gauchos, the proud horsemen of the pampas. Edgardo was invited by one of his friends to come and visit Hungary, and fell in love with the country, most specifically Budapest (not a surprise!), so he started returning every year since.
When asked the difference between playing in his home country and in Hungary, he replies,”Polo in Argentina is more open and fast but I still love to play here (in Hungary).” The Hungarian Polo Club organizes and hosts several tournaments including: BMW Diplomats Tournament, Budapest Challenge Cup, Hungarian Cup, President Cup, International Summer Cup, Amateur Cup. Recently, many of the club’s members won in the Austrian Polo Open 2016 while representing Hungary.
After a short round of stick and ball practice with such a wonderful horse, we decided to rest as the sun was beating down, and took the time instead to take in the beautiful green pitch of the club. Edgardo offered this advice to aspiring young polo players, “My advice will be to continue practicing as much they can, keep playing because this is a great sport.” I couldn’t help but agree that the game represents the pinnacle of sports. It was said that a famous verse was inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit, Pakistan. “Let others play at other things. The king of games is still the game of kings.”
For information on training, events and fixtures, visit the website of the Hungarian Polo Club/Magyar Polo Club.
DAVE RYAN A. BUARON, OWNER AND CO-FOUNDER THE NEXT ESCAPE: TRAVEL, ARTS, SPORTS AND LIFESTYLE