It is always a true pleasure for players and horses to play polo on snow – and at the same time always a special challenge. The temperatures are far below freezing point (or at least this is what the organisers of the tournament and all involved wish for). The surface made of snow is unfamiliar. And also playing with the ball – which is way bigger than the one used for grass polo and made of bright coloured plastic – requires getting used to. Each horse and each player has his own character and just like in all aspects of everyday life, their own preferences are crucial. There are no absolute rules.
One polo pony likes to play on grass, the next one favours sand and another one plays at its best when playing snow polo. But one thing indeed holds true for all: it is of the upmost importance to prepare each horse correctly for the chukkas on snow. At locations such as St Moritz there are factors such as the altitude and the thinness of the air which have to be considered during the training. When participating in this tournament, the horses have to arrive long before the tournament starts and have to do high altitude training. For Kitzbühel, the preparations are much easier. Most of all, the preparations concentrate on acclimatising the horses to snow, the temperatures and the red plastic ball. For this, coaches and grooms take four to five days.
Of course, each groom has his own theory how to shear a horse
Organiser and polo player Tito Gaudenzi explains: “Everyone has his own strategy when the preparation phase starts. I, for one, take 15 horses to Kitzbühel, which are prepared and trained by three grooms. When they come to Kitzbühel they have already been trained for two months and should be fit to the point. This year my horses will come from England to Kitzbühel.” Gaudenzi says that it is important to give the horses the time they need to acclimatise themselves. “You should never force anything and should always have a lot of patience. We as riders have to adapt to the horses – not the other way round.”
More than 120 horses will come to Kitzbühel to participate in the Valartis Bank Snow Polo World Cup and some of them will travel a thousand or more kilometres, a mammoth logistical task. Most of them will not be playing on snow for the first time and have already gathered some experience, so the players do not anticipate difficulties during the settling-in period. When arriving at the location, further preparations have to be carried out. Because the horses sweat a lot during the matches and are afterwards exposed to the cold, they are shorn for playing snow polo in order to not catch a cold. The long winter coat is shorn so that they can dry quickly under their warm horse blankets after playing. Of course, each groom has his own theory as to how best to shear a horse. In addition to the right studs, the accuracy of the preparations for the pitch is also of the utmost importance to guarantee grip as well as stability. The work on the pitch begins in the summer. When the first snow falls, the pitch is rolled on a weekly basis. This means that hard and robust layers of snow are formed, which give grip but also guarantee a closed snow cover, in case the temperatures should rise unwantedly. Horses and riders are ready to go: PLAY!