Polo takes Norfolk by storm

Prince Charles hailed it as 'a lovely way to sweat' and organisers from Norfolk's first polo festival could not agree more.

The two-day event, which took place at the weekend, aimed to give people a taste of the sport and an opportunity to see why it could take the county by storm.

And as the dust settles after the festival, set in the grounds of the historic Langley Abbey Estate in south Norfolk, organisers Chris Townsend and his wife Rebecca are starting to think about more events in the future.

'The festival allowed us to show people what it's like to play the game and so many people wanted to have a go,' said Mr Townsend.

'Polo in Norfolk is doing all right now that we've started the club and although this is a big county and there are a lot of horsey people here, people have not had the chance to pursue the sport in Norfolk.'

Mr Townsend, who took the sport up three years ago, previously had to travel outside of the county to play.

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'I kept travelling to Suffolk to play polo so eventually we decided we would have a crack at starting up the club,' he said.

'I think so many people came because for them it was the novelty of not having seen the sport before,' Mr Townsend explained.

'And if the people of Norfolk don't have a chance to see polo then they won't have a go.'

He explained that it is a sport for everyone and not just people with riding experience. 'I had not ridden before when I started playing,' he said.

'The way you control the pony is different to how you would ride one anyway. I think there is a preconception in non-polo communities that the sport is a bit horsey but the truth is it is a team sport which uses a ball.

'There were 120 ponies at the event and teams came from across the country, including Wiltshire, Essex, Sussex and Cambridge. The youngest player there was 12 and the oldest was in their sixties, which just goes to show it doesn't matter what your age, size or gender is, this is a sport that anyone can play. You do not even need to know how to ride.

'It is very physical and you have to work quite hard but it is fantastic to be part of a team and to enjoy the countryside and bond with animals. It is not elitist and anybody can have a go at it.'

Various matches were held across the two days and Mr Townsend praised his wife Rebecca and the team at the Langley Abbey Estate for their efforts and hard work.

'It's been such an enormous success we will be holding another event, although now we need to sit and soak up what happened first before we decide on a date,' he said.

The weekend was finished off with an evening dinner and dance event where a charity auction raised �4000 for Help For Heroes.

Mr Townsend said: 'Choosing this charity was an acknowledgement to all the men and women who have suffered at war and to pay our respect as polo players, which is a very physical sport, to them.'

The event was sponsored by Coutts and the Eastern Daily Press.

• For more information visit www.norfolkpolo.co.uk