The Wooden Horse.
The wooden horse is a useful aid for both beginners and also established players. It can be used to practice and perfect shots by repeating them over and over to gain precision, consistency and build muscle memory.
Most polo clubs have a wooden horse of some description. This may be as simple as a barrel with a saddle strapped to it, mounted on a raised platform. However, to be an effective teaching aid the wooden horse should have legs and a neck/head positioned similar to a real horse so you can practice avoiding catching them with your swing… particularly important when learning the neck shot and backhanders. A loop of rope attached to the mouth of the wooden horse is good enough to act as the reins so a beginner can practice their balance, half seat and swing without jerking on the reins. The wooden horse enables the player to work on a problem shot without fear of striking the horse or needing to control it.
The major benefits are gained if the wooden horse is housed in a polo cage. It enables the poloist during his off days or prior to a game to tune up his hitting eye, including striking balls in mid-air and what have you, without worrying about the horse, or without the necessity of turning the horse and preparing for another shot.
The best cages are designed with a sloping floor that enables the ball to constantly return to the hitter in a reasonable fashion where he may once again strike at it from any of the four basic hitting positions. Without the angled floor the ball tends to bounce around the cage and rarely comes back to a position where it can be struck a second time. In the areas the ball strikes most frequently, foam rubber padding helps to slow the ball’s rapid return. By placing targets round the cage the player can practice their aim and make their shots more accurate.
A wooden horse enables you to practice striking the ball with any one of the four basic shots… near side back shot, near side forward shot, or off side back shot. Tail shots, neck shots and some other angles can all be accomplished. Of course there is no substitute for the real thing when it comes to practicing hitting the ball at speed, turning the ball etc, however, the wooden horse never gets tired and doesn’t need feeding!