Riding and Polo
The fabulous Imperial College Riding and Polo Club.
I should have joined this when I was a first year. Let me take you on a brief walk through Corrie-time, to the years when we had just arrived in England, and for the first time in my life there were horses available for me to ride! My first British friend, the lovely Annie, had a pony called Bilbo Baggins (rather appropriate, given my love for all things LOTR) and I learned to ride him in her fields and on the bridlepaths around Modbury. When I think back to it now, I can’t believe my parents let me do it. I had some really bad falls, including the time the horse decided it didn’t want to jump but my body kept going; and Annie ended up in hospital for several weeks, then a wheelchair for a while after that when a horse knocked her over when she was taking it out of the field one night.
Life interfered and I ended up following the more academic life (when Annie told me that if I wanted to keep riding Bilbo, I would have to come and muck him out and ride him everyday; I couldn’t really drop everything I was doing), and the last time I rode properly was when I was 14.
I finally decided to do something I haven’t done since I was about eight – talk to people I didn’t actually know and join them on their weekly voyage to Trent Park. That first week, I was so scared my knees were knocking together and I felt physically sick – the last time I went somewhere that I didn’t know someone was when I went to Modbury Primary School and met Annie! I had my bro when I went to secondary school and my bro, Tom, Charlotte and a host of other Londonians when I came to uni.
I’m now suitably comfortable, have made some really good friends (they aren’t scary at all, though some of the people at the riding school are very horsy) and am finally starting to feel good on a horse again. So, enough of my history – what about the club?
What and where?
Well, you all meet on a Wednesday afternoon, at 12 outside the SAF (Sir Alfred Fleming Building) or at 12.15 in Beit Quad. Those who have to meet at 12 have to leave immediately, cos their lessons start at 13.15 and it takes an hour to get there. They are the advanced group normally, so they have to tack up their horses as well (which means putting the saddle/bridle on to those who don’t know!). The rest of us take a rather leisurely stroll to South Ken station and get the tube, then sit in the cafe at Trent Park watching the other lessons through the windows.
Trent Park itself is at Oakwood, one stop before Cockfosters and the end of the Picadilly line. It takes a long time, and by the time you reach the end you are in daylight again – if you know how far underground you have to go to catch it at South Ken, you’ll appreciate this! You then walk about 5 minutes to get to the school.
The stables has two internal schools, one in which the little kids are normally taught and the other where we normally have our lessons (School 1). It’s humungous, but they split it into two cos the vets from RVC normally have lessons at the same time as us and you can get more people in that way. I take it from everyone else that lessons are pretty standard – having never had any before this I can’t compare. We walk then trot round the ring to warm up, and either get going on exercises such as trotting stirrup-less, trotting standing in the saddle and cantering. The point in the group I am in is to learn to find your balance, and also how to communicate with the horse so you work together rather than just you being boss and trying to make it do things that may not make sense to it. You ride a different horse each week, which is very new for me – I learned Bilbo’s likes and dislikes and it was a lot easier than having to adjust each time. I guess this makes you a better rider though.
The more advanced riders do the same as us in places, but faster and for less time on each exercise. I think they might do jumping, but I’m not really sure.
They also do Polo lessons, but I don’t know where. They take place on a Tuesday, and you have to be quite comfortable on a horse. Get in touch with them if you want to know more, I guess!
Lessons are on a Wednesday, and on these nights is the infamous ACC Bar Night. After riding lessons, there is a pub in Oakwood which everyone goes to as well. They organise pub crawls (the last one was cowboy themed) and free polo sessions, where you can give polo a go without paying! Yay!
A touchy issue if you are strapped for cash, as I often am, but then I don’t really drink so I figure it’s just my drinking money. You have to pay £40 to join the club and lessons are £15 thereafter (you can do the first lesson as a non-member for £25). It seems a lot, but in just four lessons you make up the cost, and that’s really the only expenditure apart from the tube (which is £2.40 there and £3.20 back if I get off at Fulham Broadway). You can borrow hat and boots from the stables (though you need a whip, which I haven’t found yet and had to get myself).