Page last updated at 03:02 GMT, Saturday, 12 July 2008 04:02 UK

Minted get a taste for beach polo

By Eleanor Williams
BBC News, Sandbanks

Beach polo at Sandbanks - Jamie Le Hardy in the foreground
Beach polo is fast and spectator-friendly, says Jamie Le Hardy

Summer has arrived in Sandbanks, and so has a new event on the season's socialite calendar.

Traditionally associated with royalty and high society, the game of polo descended on Dorset's own millionaires' playground this weekend.

The beach at Sandbanks filled with horses in shiny coats and neatly taped tails accompanied by polo players from all corners of the world - and of course a glamorous crowd of spectators.

The British Beach Polo Championships is being held in Sandbanks and it is the first time such an event has been staged in Europe.

It has only ever been held in Miami and Dubai before.

Being the fourth most expensive place to live in the world with houses costing an average of almost 500,000, Sandbanks can arguably be seen as an exclusive setting.

And, if you try hard to forget the chilly wind, the threat of rain looming overhead and pretend the sea is turquoise and not grey, it starts to feel a bit more tropical.

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Top polo players from all over the world are taking part in the tournament in Sandbanks, UK's most expensive seaside resort.

Most of the players are also used to the British weather, as are the many Argentines taking part, because they regularly spend the summer season - their winter - in England playing polo.

Nicolas Antinori, 31, is one of them. He has four polo ponies and is spending his sixth season over here.

"I have never played beach polo before but I think it's similar to arena polo which I play."

Nicolas Antinori
Nicolas Antinori, from Argentina, is spending his sixth season in England

Watching the first match from the sidelines he says: "I feel fine, I think. Maybe not too confident."

Meanwhile, English champion player Jamie Le Hardy, who has played polo since he was 18 in 26 different countries, is one of the three players on the pitch.

The 34-year-old from Dunsfold, Sussex, who has a seven goal handicap in arena polo, said before the start: "It's a real challenge and the first time this is happening in England.

"It will be great to watch as it's very spectator friendly and you get a real feel for the sport."

Beach polo is a variation of arena polo and six teams of riders and horses play three games during the two-day tournament, which is staged on a smaller, temporary pitch measuring 100m (110yds) by 50m (55yds).

Each team consists of two professionals and one amateur player and the game consists of four periods, called chukkas, which are six-and-a-half minutes long. The riders change horses at the end of each chukka.

Vineta Sayer and Laila Voicisa
Vineta Sayer and Laila Voicisa were enjoying the few glimpses of sunshine

While the rules are generally the same as arena polo, a larger, softer ball is used.

Watching the game while sipping a glass of champagne is artist Vineta Sayer, who lives in Kent but comes from Latvia, with her friend and fellow Latvian, Laila Voicisa.

She specialises in painting sports horses and designed the logo for the event.

"I like dynamic painting. I do nothing but paint horses. If no-one wants to buy my paintings I'll have to get a new skill."

Johnny Wheeler, whose day job is as an Army officer, has helped to organise the championships.

He said: "We wanted all the teams to be equal so we have drawn from teams and players from all over the country and some Argentinean players - who are generally much better than the English.

Beach polo at Sandbanks
More than 1,500 people watched Friday's matches

"Beach polo has been played in England on a small scale for many, many years, as it has around the world.

"But actually there's never been an event of this scale staged in the UK.

"We are very lucky to have this as a venue for the first ever British Beach Polo Championships."

And if the weekend event is a success, the polo organisers have been told they can return next year.

So beach polo may end up becoming an annual event in UK's most expensive seaside resort.


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