“The scale of the polo season in Plett is truly impressive – it’s the largest season for any club offering in the whole country,” specialist South African polo photographer Ryan French explains.
Plett’s polo season 2023 started in mid-November and will be running all the way through to mid-January. Between all of the clubs in the area, there are up to 5 games on the go every day, many of which take place at the Plett Polo Club on the beautiful Kurland Estate.
What Ryan really loves about the polo season is that is has such a wide variety of experiences to offer locals and visitors alike.
“If you’re visiting Plett during this season, and you’re looking for something different to do, pack a picnic and come up to one of the fields to experience polo,” Ryan enthuses. “There’s no charge, you get very close to the action, and it’s a great way to have fun with the whole family. Or for something a bit more formal, head up to Kurland on a Sunday to enjoy a traditional Sunday lunch at the Pavilion while watching the final polo tournament of the week.”
In Plett, at least, the days of the polo being only for trendy fashionistas and social elites are long over.
“You are as welcome at the side of the field in board shorts and flip flops as you would be fully dressed in high fashion. It’s a uniquely ‘Plett thing’,” Ryan says with a smile. “In Joburg, if you’re watching the polo, it’s all about the fashion and who’s who, whereas Plett has a nice mix of glitz and glamour, as well as kids and teens in their usual summer gear. It all mixes perfectly and makes for a wonderfully relaxed environment.”
Don’t miss the Plett Polo Festival on 29 December
It’s become a tradition that the main event of the Plett polo season is played on 29 December.
The tournament is hosted at Kurland’s beautiful Pavilion (which has undergone a makeover) from 12pm and two important games are the highlight:
- The Johnnie Walker Ladies Invitational
- A men’s high goal game
After the matches, there’s a festive after-party on the field that goes on until late – not to be missed!
A photographer’s dream
“As a photographer, I couldn’t ask for a more picturesque setting than the Kurland polo fields,” says Ryan, who moved from a corporate position in Joburg to Nature’s Valley six years ago. “My favourite spot is Baron field, looking back to the Homestead. The contrast of greens and blues, with the honeybush tea coming through, is an absolute delight. It’s almost impossible to snap a bad image!”
A self-confessed adrenalin junkie, Ryan says that he loves the speed and rush that a polo game brings. “The scale of the field is massive (6 football fields in size!) and at any given time you could have 4 to 8 horses coming right at you at 75-80 kms an hour, with the players holding their sticks in the air. And all you know is that you have to get a shot in that moment. It’s challenging, but it’s also incredibly exciting.”
When he’s not in the middle of the action, however, Ryan also loves the quiet moments and intimate connections he makes when photographing the horses before the match. “I enjoy walking the pony lines, capturing cameo shots of their eyelashes, the clippings, and their manes. The power that you can see in them is just incredible, and you can sense the high-octane nature of the sport.”
Polo for all levels and ages
So, if you’re in the area this festive season, come round to Kurland and enjoy watching different levels of games, from 2 goal games all the way up to 12 goals. There are even a few kids’ chukkas – fun matches for the youngsters to enjoy before or after one of the main games.
And if you’re not around this December/January, it’s worth noting that another wonderful time of the year to visit is April, which is when the SA Open takes place. Kurland hosts a 15-goal game which sees four South African teams competing against one another.
A note about the welfare of horses in polo games
Horse welfare is paramount in the sport, and there are specific rules in place to look after the horses that are strictly managed.