Rachel Wise of the Hastings Leader reports on the Manurau polo boys from the Birchleigh Polo club gearing up for their first polo match playing with and against members of the Mongolian National team.
Many thanks to NRM for donating five bags of Sweet Feed to the Birchleigh Polo School training program. The support of NRM is very much appreciated.
For all your feed needs please contact NRM
Story: Tracey Chatterton of the Dominion Post
Codie Irwin likes to punch doors when he’s angry but “I like horses”, the 12-year-old says gently stroking a polo pony.
The aristocratic game is helping at-risk Flaxmere teens stay on the right side of the law.
It was Ros Rowe’s idea to put troubled teens on ponies and teach them to play a game usually reserved for those with money.
The Leg Up Trust co-ordinator works with horses to teach teens to manage anger and frustrations. Horses mirror people’s behaviour and will push someone around if they’re aggressive, Rowe says.
With the support of local police and Birchleigh Polo Club, a group of teens is selected to take part in the three-month programme, which is now in its third year.
Birchleigh manager Richard Kettle says candidates are usually chosen as being those who needed a little help to stay on the straight and narrow.
They walk in a bit “rough and tough” but are soon “softening up” around the ponies. They learn to groom and care for the ponies before graduating to riding and playing polo.
“The kids soon understand by giving a little and showing respect to the animal, how rewarding it is when that animal gives back – and those are life skills.”
Rules are strictly enforced. If someone puts a foot wrong, they risk being kicked out.
Codie is confident he can stick by the no-swearing rule, although he was kicked out of class last year for swearing at his teacher. The horses have a calming effect on him. “My papa has horses . . . when I get pissed off I catch me a horse and go for a ride.”
Shellico Hura-Hokianga, 13, has also “chilled out” more. His reluctance to talk reveals he still clings to his staunch attitude, but he hasn’t been in a fight for a while.
His mother, Pauline Hura, has been so impressed with the changes in her son that she has enrolled his brother Zario, 12.
And while they are unlikely polo players, they all want to be around the horses.
Judith Hokianga says her son Satriani, 12, never comes out of school on time, except for the days he attends Birchleigh. She hopes the programme will help his short attention span.
The programme culminates with the group playing a match against police. Kettle says it’s a great game to watch as the two meet on a level playing field.
“The police weren’t looking at them as a bunch of ratbags and they weren’t looking at the police as someone to fear.”
The group has “raised some eyebrows” but Kettle believes the teens have as much right to play polo as anyone else.
“Why should it not be accessible to them? If we can change the attitude of half-a-dozen of these boys or girls, then it’s helping everyone.”
He realises the limitations of a three-month programme and would one day like to see Flaxmere College have its own polo team.
Principal Louise Anaru says any opportunity that encourages participation, relationship building and commitment is always good for Flaxmere students.
Birchleigh wins low goal final.
The Birchleigh team of Emma Hinton,Victoria Muir, Laura Malone and Angus McKelvie beat a rated Hawke’s Bay in the low goal final.
After wining the round robin section on the previous day the Birchleigh team were up against a strong Hawke’s Bay team that had beaten Rangitikei on the first day.
The girls played really well, doing what was asked of them by Angus which allowed him to score some great field goals. Emma Hinton and Laura Malone also got on the score sheet.
The win was a big thrill for the young Birchleigh Polo Club and the girls, plus Angus could not hide the grins of winning afterwards.
Birchleigh (R. Kettle, V. Muir, B. Dalton and guest A. McKelvie) took part in the HB Polo Club hosted Wine Country Cup held over the weekend of 8-9 December.
Day One saw Birchleigh facing Puketapu at 1pm in the 2 goal section. The team met at Birchleigh at 10am to prep the ponies. The truck was loaded and on its way to Elwood Park. After Richard had completed his umpire duties (after being told at 11:10am that he was umpiring at 11:00am…..) the horses were tacked up and ready for action.
Puketapu were fielding a strong team, anchored at the back by 3-goaler Dryden Power of Wychwood. The game started at a frenetic pace that didn’t let up. Birchleigh competed well for seven minutes of the first chukka. Unfortunately a chukka is seven minutes and thirty seconds long. After the first bell sounded Birchleigh made a fatal mistake of relaxing and Dryden got clear and tapped in a easy goal to make it one-nil to Puketapu. 5-goaler Angus was rock solid at the back and hitting some great long balls up for Victoria and Ben to ride on to. Victoria was on the pace and Richard had some good runs but Ben and Victoria were both guilty of not getting up fast enough to support the ball carrier allowing Puketapu players to get the backhand away.
The next few chukkas saw Puketapu convert more opportunities to go up three-nil. Angus pulled one back to make it three-one. Edwina Askew from Puketapu was making life difficult for Birchleigh with some fine riding off taking the sting out of many of the attacks. Birchleigh was unable to convert their opportunities with Angus putting a searing shot just wide of the post and Richard also just missing a goal. A messy goal mouth scramble also saw Ben almost put the ball between the posts but it was picked up and cleared away by a Puketapu player. A final goal by Puketapu put the result beyond doubt at 4-1.
Day 2 saw Birchleigh playing in the 10am match against Waipukurau, necessitating an early start out at Birchleigh to get the horses ready. This was going to be a tough match with Lochie Hunter, the 5 goal player from Wanstead, playing at the back for Waipuk. Birchleigh started off very flat and Ellen Morgenstern playing at number 1 for Waipuk got clear on a number of ocassions and scored some early goals. The pace was possbily faster than the previous game and a lack of riding fitness was starting to cost Birchleigh dearly. Lochie was having a good battle with his opposite Angus and it was a sight to see these two outstanding players hitting the ball. Up near half way Lochie was given too much space and he casually smashed a huge drive down the field between the posts to give Waipukurau a commanding lead.Victoria was hitting the ball with confidence and had some great runs up the field. Getting hooked at pace saw the head of Angus’ mallet smashed off and while he raced to the side of the field to replace it Birchleigh were put under some real pressure.
A tough team talk after the second chukka seemed to wake Birchleigh up to some extent. Ben, riding Salute, forced a foul and slotted the penalty to claw a goal back. Salute seemed to have had rocket fuel for breakfast as she was showing impressive speed – almost too much speed as when coming into the line to support the ball carrier she was actually catching them too quickly. Victoria picked up a goal after a good run to the line in the third chukka to lend some credibility to the score line and get some reward for her hard work. However it was a case of too little too late and Waipuk ran away deserved winners.
After the horses were sorted the team returned to Birchleigh to unpack before returning to Elwood Park to watch the 8 goal final.
Thanks to Neil who attended both days and assisted with the horses and was working so hard that he probably didnt actually see any of the games, Chelsea from HB Polo who also helped out, and to Dryden, Lochie and Angus for their encouragement and advice. It was very much appreciated.
The opening game of the 2012/2013 season saw Birchleigh (J. Thompson, B. McKelvie, B. Dalton, E. Hinton) take on Wychwood (D. Power, D. Watson, J. Baillie, A. Wood) over four chukkas. Mr George Wood acted as umpire. Although Wychwood had a stronger team based on handicap the match was played “off the stick”.
Birchleigh struck first when Dalton, playing in the number two position, tapped a long ball on his near side through the posts after only 40 seconds of play.
Wychwood responded and Power, the ex professional, soon had 2 goals to his name. Wood, playing up front was having some strong runs. McKelvie and Thompson, the back two for Birchleigh did well to stem the tide of attacks but the experience of Watson, Baillie and Power was beginning to show. Hinton, playing at number one for Birchleigh showed good ability considering the effectiveness of the Wychwood defence.
The third chukka saw a number of balls go over the side line from backhand shots necessitating numerous throw ins that slowed play.
Coming into the last chukka the score stood at 4-2 to Wychwood when Thompson smashed a strong drive through the posts to bring Birchleigh within distance of a draw. Birchleigh returned to half way and the throw in was taken quickly. However Power picked up the ball in broken play a short time later and Dalton was too slow to come up on Power to attempt the block. Power got a horse length ahead and drilled an angled shot that went between the posts to make the final score 5-3.
The two teams for the Birchleigh Polo Club Open Day will be selected from the following players (Handicap):
Ben McKelvie (Rangitikei) (1)
Jared Thompson (Hawkes Bay) (1)
Dryden Power (Witchwood) (3)
Dani Watson (Wanstead) (0)
Ben Dalton (Birchleigh) (-2)
Joe Malone (Witchwood) (?)
Emma Hinton (Birchleigh) (-2)
James Bailey (Rangitikei) (0)
Things are looking good at Birchleigh as the days tick down to the opening weekend on Saturday the 17th of November. The field is in great condition, as are the ponies. Gates open at 11:ooam with action on the field from 11:30am. $10 entry or $35 includes a fantastic BBQ lunch prepared by Raymond van Rijk.
Meanwhile, in day to day news, a new crop of beginners are starting their polo apprenticeship and learning about the game and the more advanced players are out on the pitch for stick and ball. Things are looking good for a fantastic season!
Teams are set to be announced soon so watch this space!