Jumbo Polo Comes to Thailand
The elephant has played a vital
role in the history of Thailand and has become a symbol of the Kingdom.
It's believed to be a symbol of good luck both to HM the King and
the Kingdom. But in today's changing world elephants like humans
need gainful employment. One such opportunity could that Elephant Polo
is coming to Thailand with the first international three nations test
series to be played in Hua Hin on 15-16th September 2001.
"The Hua Hin Hotel Association
were looking for new ways to promote the destination'," said
Chris Stafford GM of Anantara Resort & Spa, Hua Hin, "and came
up with the idea of Elephant Polo. As this will give a positive role
for elephant in the Kingdom, Thai Elephant Conservation Association
in Lampang are lending their name to the event with 50% of the money
raised being donated to their charity. In addition there will be an
auction of Elephant paintings, Elephant Polo sticks and other memorabilia
to raise funds for the Association at the Elephant Ball." Before
the start of the Polo Ball there will be a Buffet for the Elephants,
they shouldn't miss out on party.
"The event will be held at
Military Camp 16, " he said "a few kms south of Hua Hin heading
towards Pranburi. It will be played in accordance with WEPA Rules on
a field 120x70 meters, about a third of the size of a normal polo ground.
The four three man teams will play each other on a league table basis
on Saturday. The Finals will be played on Sunday between the top two
ranking teams, with the other two playing for 3rd place."
"We have eight elephant based
in Hua Hin," he continued "and an additional four from the
same family being trucked from Surin with their Mahouts. Col Raj Kalaan
of who was involved with elephant polo in Jaipur will becoming to Thailand
to train the elephants, mahouts and the two teams representing Thailand
the art of elephant polo. The visitors from Nepal and Sri Lanka will
also have the chance to familiarize themselves with Thai elephant. During
the 9 days training period Col Raj will have the opportunity to access
the skills and weaknesses of all the players, mahouts and elephant.
Allowing him to allocate the elephant fairly into four teams. The smaller
elephant are used in the attacking role while the more solid elephant
play in defense."
Elephant polo was first played
in 1975 by the Maharajah's of Jaipur. However the World Elephant
Polo Association (WEPA) was born when two sporting eccentrics met over
Martinis at the St Moritz Bar, Switzerland in 1981. James Manclark,
a Scottish landowner, international polo player and former British bobsleigh
champion was introduced to Jim Manclark, the executive chairman of the
Tiger Mountain Group, who had just completed his first Cresta Run. In
the course of their conversation when Manclark discovered that Edwards
owned elephants he suggested that elephant polo might be more exciting
and adventurous than horse polo. What crazy ideas we have in bars and
Manclark thought no more of the idea until he read the famous telegram
early in 1982 that read "Arriving Katmandu 1 April, have long sticks,
get elephant ready.' What could have been taken as an outrageous
April Fool's joke was in fact how the sport was born in Nepal.
The first WEPA championship was
not a brilliant success as the elephant took great delight at stamping
on the soccer balls used in the early days, enjoying the sound of them
bursting. Several of the players found it difficult to remain on the
cushions strapped to the elephant's backs. The seeds of the sport
were planted, it just needed a little fine-tuning. The rules were revised,
the use of an ordinary polo ball was introduced and the introduction
of a leather saddle with rope stirrups and an oversized girth.
Jim Edwards compared Elephant Polo
to "trying to play golf from a slow moving Land Rover", although
one disillusioned lady said it felt more like strapped onto the roof
of a double decker bus with a flat tyre.
The mahouts are critical to each
team's success, as the players are completely dependent on getting
them to maneuver the elephant close to the ball. Team captains have
been known to offer incentives to their mahout to ensure a good days
play. As they only speak Thai, the Kingdoms team will have an advantage
with communication. This should help to compensate for the fact that
none of them have ever played Elephant Polo before.
The secret of winning at Elephant
Polo is getting a fast elephant and keeping on good terms with the mahouts.
"Elephant Polo is like Sex or War one per cent action and
99 per cent maneuverability," admitted one player.
"Quite simply" says Jim
Edwards, "it's crazy fun. You really can't take it too
seriously, as the elephant control the game. But it's competitive
and as teams from all over the world ask to play we can afford to choose
a fun mix. But the nice thing is that it's the game that's
most important, not winning."
Mallets are 98 to 110 inches long
depending on the more than double the length and weight of an equestrian
polo stick. New players often complain that their wrists hurt when the
first play polo. Many bandage their wrists to provide that little bit
more strength of the under trunk shots. Originally the mallets were
style on the traditional polo mallet but were found to be too whippy
when playing from an Elephant. With the new mallets the upper section
is bamboo for stiffness with cane for the lower section to allow for
As part of their fitness preparation
some players stand their swimming pools swinging a golf club one handed
through the water to strengthen their wrists. Women are allowed to hold
the stick with two hands. As part of her preparation one lady hangs
over the balcony of her house hitting a tennis ball with a broom. I
wonder what the neighbour must think.
The piles of Elephant poop can
complicate the game. On one accasion the ball landed between two sizably
large piles of elephant dung. Raj Kalaan, a former 5-goal Indian polo
player, technical adviser to the tournament and Captain of the Sri Lankan
Team took aim and not only hit the polo ball but sent generous proportions
of elephant dung flying into the face of a member of the opposing team.
An objection was lodged, but when the umpire checked there are no rules
prohibiting such inadvertent behaviour. The verdict was an "act
The tournament will be played under
the rules of the WEPA in Hua Hin with two minor changes, each team has
three rather than four players and elephant will not be changed at half
"In Equestrian Polo 70% of
success depends on the speed of the pony" commented Oliver Winter,
the man responsible the re-introduction of Equestrian Polo to Thailand
and Captain of Thailand A team," where as with Elephant Polo the
equation is different; 30% elephant, 40% mahout and 30% the player.
All of the players from Thailand have experience of the game on horseback
but none of us have played the game on elephant. The challenges we face
are communicating with the mahouts and leaning out far enough to hit
the ball. Riding a polo pony is like driving a fast sports car, total
control of how fast and where we go. I see the experience like being
chauffeured around large 4x4. For me It's not so much a challenge
but a great sense of royal pageantry. Rather than wearing my normal
polo helmet with visor,that would be at home on the baseball field I
will wear a 30 year old pith helmet from India and traditional brown
lace-up polo boots. Adding I hope a sense of the British Raj in India
and Burma ".
Hua Hin Hotels & Resorts Reservation Service