Guards’ Manager Interview.
At the end of his first summer as Polo Manager at Guards, Antony Fanshawe reflects on the high goal season in the UK.
In an interview with the Telegraph last month Fanshawe talked about his belief that the number of ponies being used in high goal polo might be “ruining the game” and that the pony should be made “more important again”. It is an interesting view… he suggests that a return to one pony per chukka could improve play dramatically.
Fanshawe also has strong views on umpiring, safety, and where the Hurlingham Polo Association should be concentrating its efforts as the sport’s governing body. On umpiring, his view is that “there should be a panel traveling the world who do all the high goal tournaments.” In his opinion it would create a consistency in top-level polo. “Safety,” he insists, “lies with the players.”
He considers the greatest improvement from administrators lies with the HPA’s ability to create the right infrastructure. “England needs the HPA to spend money on polo fields and the clubs,” he said. “It’s not about people and club houses. We need infrastructure. We need to improve our fields. That is so, so, key.”
When it comes to ponies, the numbers being used, and the state of play, Fanshawe draws an analogy with the modern-day game of rugby. “The polo pony of now is more bulked up, similar to how rugby is played,” he said. “It’s like replacements in rugby. Rugby was once a 15-a-side game, now it’s 22-a-side. It makes for slow play, and we need to get rid of the tap-tap, with little passing. Players should be forced to pass, to speed up the game.”
“We used to play one horse for a whole chukka in the days I played at the top level. They weren’t bulked up, and didn’t run out of gas. Now they play 2/3 minutes, on full gas, and they are very much like impact players in rugby. We need to find a way where the horse becomes more important again, we should be limiting the number of horses a chukka. Three horses a chukka is ruining the game.” Fanshawe believes part of the problem goes back some fifteen to twenty years ago when the thoroughbred was introduced to polo. “They have now been turned into super-charged polo ponies.”
In Fanshawe’s day “players … were meaner, leaner, more natural athletes,” he explained, “as were the ponies”. His career began working for the Vestey family and their Foxcote/Stowell Park teams in both England and Brazil. This was followed by a stint with Hector Barrantes in Argentina, producing horses for Espadana – now known as the mighty Ellerston. Fanshawe played high-goal with John Manconi’s Alfa Romeo and Alcatel teams, Prince Abdullah’s Royal Pahang, and then Labegorce, playing in the final stages of the UK’s key tournaments – The Prince of Wales, The Queen’s Cup and The Gold Cup. After reaching the semis of the Gold Cup with Dubai in 1996 Antony saw his handicap rise to five goals.
When a broken hand curtailed his high-goal career, Fanshawe focused on producing high-goal ponies, working closely with Bautista Heguy. In 2011 he was also named England team coach in the Federation of International Polo 14-goal World Championships in Argentina. He continued to reap polo success around the world, including winning the Club’s Duke of Wellington Trophy, the French Gold Cup in Deauville and the Copa Presidente in Palermo, Argentina.