When riding or striking the ball we take on a series of positions in order to assure maximum balance – that is the essence of polo.
We know that the position of the stirrups follows the centre of gravity of a stationary horse. When the horse begins to move the centre of gravity changes and causes the player to adjust their position in order to maintain balance.
We can divide the body in three parts to better understand the change of movements: Upper part (torso up to the belly button), the lower part of the spine with the pelvis in motion, and the legs.
The work done by the legs is made up of three elements:
a) The adductor muscles of the upper leg (riding muscles).
b) The knee (inner part).
c) The feet, which rest on a platform (stirrups).
These three elements should be coordinated and respond to different corporal positions; in some cases the adductor muscles and the knee will work most, while in others the weight on the stirrup will be more important.
For example, in certain cases where the torso (upper body) leans forward to assume the half seated position, the follow through of the swing and certain strikes make our legs (and feet) go backwards, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the movement or strike. In this case the adductor muscles work the most and can be helped by using what I call the “Tripod Support” (pushing the left hand with the reins on the base of the horses’ neck).
Also when standing or staying on, we try to maintain perfect coordination between the three elements so that we do not fall forward or back; we adopt a vertical position with support from the stirrups and the use of adductor muscles. This not only favours our riding but also the tilt of the horse when we rise.
At the end of the strike, finishing the swing in the stirrups, our body follows by inertia the direction of the ball, and consequently our supporting leg, which aids our balance, goes backwards. Here we work the adductor muscles in order to maintain balance. Once again, the way to counteract the work of these muscles is by bringing the Tripod effect into action – leaning on the base of the horses’ neck with our left hand, while holding the reins. Our hand will rest higher or lower depending on the distance of the strike and amplitude of the swing; when the player is working with distance they leave the saddle in a forward motion and their support on the horses neck can almost reach the ears.
In the through balls the adductor muscles work significantly owing to the forward inclination of the body.
The correct coordination between adductor muscles, knees, and the platform, grants advantages not only in the steering of the horse, but it also favours the varying positions of the strike during the development of the swing. Consequently one saves vital energy during the game and avoids injuries.
The lack of coordination leads to injuries, generally related to the adductor muscles (by pulling the muscles) or the grip muscles. These injuries come about due to lack of training, from muscular stress, and also by unexpected movements of the horse.
The idea that leaning the left hand with the reins on the base of the horses’ neck is wrong is a totally erroneous concept. On the contrary, the use of this Tripod assures maximum balance on the horse and saves muscular energy of the adductors and the knee.