Down Polo Lane

Not so Visible to the Man on the Street, this Demanding Equestrian Sport is Beautiful to Watch and Action-Packed

Services | Victoria Oscarrson | November 2007

The elite but dangerous sport of polo can be enjoyed at Schloss Ebreichsdorf, less than an hour south of Vienna

It is early September. The place is Schloss Ebreichsdorf, synonymous in Vienna with the game of polo. The event, one of the last matches of the season, with a glittering array of sponsors that includes Porsche, LGT Private Bank, fashion atelier Knize, Tilman Krauss Real Estate and Irm Kotex Insurance.

The mastermind behind this series of events is Baron Richard Drasche who had a vision for an unspoiled property with storybook moated castle thirty minutes south of Vienna. The polo field was gleaming, a seamless green soon to be ravaged by the passions of the game. It looked proud.

Teams of four riders with horses, mallets and ball, entered, escorted by the umpires onto the field. Horses and riders circled… and suddenly, the whistle.

Fast break, stick and ball, tips and tricks, sudden death – the teams careen up and down the field at a thundering pace. At the end of the day, there had been one accident when a rider managed to hit a perfect shot – and fell.

This is a dangerous sport for horse as well as rider, and, should the rider miss, the mallet can land on the back of the horse.  Goals, and five intermissions were required for stomping the divots back into the field for the next round.  Down at Polo Lane, the horses take their ease, some on three legs, one hoof cocked, waiting their turn to face the opponent. But there’s plenty of passion all around, from the spectators, from the riders, and the beasts.

Afterward, we met up with visiting pro, Gonzalo Janzon, one of the most famous riders from polo-land Argentina and local boy Jocher Ressel.

"Vienna is one of the best places to learn to be a polo player," Ressel said. "Because you make the training in the experience, not just from a school," such as he had experienced in England. The participate in this sport, you need five things: polo ponies (called ponies because of their size, 150-160 centimeters), mallet, a pair of boots, a helmet and top physical conditioning.  The rider must be as fit as the horse, and constantly thinking for both, measuring the mind of his mount to judge how much he can handle.  The rider’s skill is in the relationship with the horse – not just in hitting the ball.

From Persia to England and back to India this sport traveled, arriving back in Austria in early 1900’s – one of the oldest sports in the world.  Even Gengis Kahn liked to tear down the field, swinging his stick at the tiny white ball.

This equestrian world is an event unto itself in Austria, not so visible to the man on the street, maybe not for everyone, but beautiful and action-packed.

The season will resume at Ebreichsdorf in the Spring.

Poloclub Schloss Ebreichsdorf:

Other articles from this issue