Updated: Sep 9, 2022
Adolfo Cambiaso does it. Facu Pieres does it. Pelon does it, and several other polo players at the top of their game. But so does Jen on the West Coast, Lee in Dubai, Tim in Germany, and Sammy in the UK.
What they all have in common is that they have all chosen to play in Ainsley MVP polo saddles. The feature of the MVP that usually receives the most attention is the saddle’s adjustable fit, which accommodates horses of different shapes, but it’s hardly surprising that Adolfo, Facu and Pelon also demand that their saddles enable the most effective and efficient riding possible.
As is often said, horses make up 80% of polo. If this is true, then it must also be true that the better the player is able to harness the capabilities of his or her horses, the better the joint performance of horse and player. Horsemanship and riding skills are the key ingredients - at all levels of polo – and our saddles, forming the essential connection between horse and rider, influence how well we can bring our horsemanship and riding skills to bear on maximizing performance – at all levels of polo.
Compared with all other equestrian disciplines, riding for polo is unique, as it incorporates elements from virtually every other discipline. Probably, the most prominent feature of riding for polo is the half seat, considering that we spend most of our time playing in the half seat (or at least out of the saddle). The half seat is so important to us because it:
Allows us to align our center of gravity with the horse’s center of gravity – and to use shifts in our center of gravity to direct the horse to accelerate, decelerate, stop, turn and make lateral movements
Enables a solid connection between horse and rider – ideally, we would want our entire upper legs to be in firm contact with the saddle and the horse’s shoulders in order to effectively transmit changes in our center of gravity to the horse
Provides a good hitting platform, to some extent isolating us from the horse’s movements and providing us with the freedom to turn our upper body one way or the other
I would argue that developing and refining riding your skills is one of the most rewarding investments in polo, as you and horses will become more and more effective as a team and achieve:
Faster and more accurate responses from your horse
More precise positioning on the pitch
A more effective hitting platform
Given the fundamental importance of riding skills, and especially the importance of the half seat, your saddles should place you in ‘neutral’, i.e., place your center of gravity directly above that of your horse. You often see polo saddles placed very far forward to achieve this. Polo saddles are designed to sit further forward than the saddles in other equestrian sports, but very often we place them even further forward to get to that ‘neutral’ position. Usually, the saddle then slides back to its intended position during play, displacing the player’s center of gravity backwards. In some saddles, you may also have a sense of falling backward or forward, neither of which is helpful.
The triangle formed by your upper legs is potentially, and ideally, the most direct form of communication between you and your horse. To maximize this connection, you will want as much of your upper leg against the surface of the saddle as possible (in the half seat). This surface area is determined by the cross section of the saddle and the length of your stirrups. If we consider just the saddle cross section, some saddles are barrel shaped, which makes it difficult, if not impossible to achieve full upper leg contact.
Some polo saddles put the player quite far back when seated, either by design or because they are simply too long for the player’s ‘confirmation’. Although comfortable when cantering along, this position will invariably make the process of getting into the half take a fraction longer and require slightly more effort than is necessary. Even though we are talking about fractions, this matters to all players. At the top level, a fraction of a second may mean evading an opponent. For the rest of us, a fraction of a second is enough to delay your swing preparation causing you to rush or force your swing.
While Adolfo Cambiaso, Facu Pieres and Pelon value the MVP’s fitting options and the freedom of movement that the MVP provides their horses, what they value even more is how the MVP positions them on their horses, in the sweet spot, whatever the shape of their horses, which enables them to maximize their effectiveness on the field.
The MVP places you exactly where you need to be, it gives you all the grip you need, an easy transition from seated to half seat and a solid hitting platform.
The riding fundamentals are the same, whether you are the world’s best player or just starting out in polo. If you are a beginner, the MVP allows you to focus on getting your riding right from the outset. If you are an experienced player, it allows you to further strengthen your riding or to get rid of one or two bad habits that we accumulate over time.
To help you get the most value from your MVP saddle(s), Performance Polo has partnered with renowned polo instructor Steve Thompson: Wherever you are in the world, with every MVP saddle purchased, you will receive a free, personalized video lesson with Steve, which you can use to address any aspect of your riding or hitting, for example:
If you are a beginner, Steve can help you develop the ideal half seat
If you are experienced: Increase the effectiveness of your riding and replace bad habits
If you are advanced: fine tune an element of your riding or hitting
Additional lessons can be booked with Steve directly.