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In conversation with Petra B Spanko on falling in love with the sport and playing for in the UAE

By Dina Spahi.

As polo continues to conquer the four corners of the globe, it’s great to see more and more women embracing this challenging sport. We spoke to Petra B Spanko, Managing Director of Clever Monitor Middle East, about her recent venture into the world of polo, playing at the Al Habtoor Polo Club, the reaction to her new passion, and how much she admires HRH Sheikh Maitha bint Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, patron of UAE Polo Team.

When and how did you get into the sport of polo?

Four years ago, while doing show jumping and cross-country riding at the Desert Palm Resort, I would watch a polo team training there regularly and the sport piqued my interest. I enquired more about the team and it turned out it was in fact HRH Sh Maitha who was training with UAE Polo Team.

What was the reaction to your interest?

The reaction from the polo side was wonderful; everyone is amazing and truly passionate about polo. They supported me to be better, to play better, to be a better rider. There are more and more women playing now, even though we are still definitely in the minority in the whole polo world. So I would say, the reaction has been more than welcoming. The reaction from the family side was obviously a bit different, more apprehensive, as polo is one of the most dangerous sports. As they say, polo is faster than hockey, tougher then rugby, and chicer then golf. Thankfully, my husband supported me all the way, understanding the passion I have as he feels the same when it comes to his motorbike.

At Night Polo player and horse playing in games.; Shutterstock ID 638397178

How has being part of a Polo Club changed your life?

Being part of the polo family is an incredible feeling. So yes, it truly does feel like family. How did it change my life? It has definitely enhanced the sporting element in my life, which has always been there. I was never really a morning person, but to train with your horse, you usually have to wake up very early. So in my case, it changed my life quite dramatically. I usually go to bed early, wake up early as well, and aside from polo, I train a lot at the gym. You need to work out quite a bit to have a strong core. And running is also a necessary part of the training to work on your cardio.

How do you balance your professional life with your polo obligations?

I love my job, but I’m a passionate polo player as well. I truly enjoy having both in my life. The game of four chukkas takes approximately 45 mins to an hour (4 x 7 mins net time), so it’s not that difficult to adjust the rest of your work day. Most of the games take place during the weekends, which definitely helps as well. During the week, it’s usually “early morning” or “before sunset” when we train.

 How do you feel the sport has evolved in the UAE since you’ve become involved 4 years ago?

There are more and more people interested in playing or at least “trying” polo. The UAE is an ideal place to do so and Al Habtoor Polo Club has one of the best facilities in the region. The polo scene has changed quite a lot in last few years; we used to have only two polo clubs, Desert Palm and the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, so when Al Habtoor Polo Club came onto the scene, it inspired even more people to take a closer look at the game. This wider polo scene in the region also helps to bring more players who are known around the globe here for the season.

What has surprised you the most about taking part in this sport here?

Surprised? Well, mostly I would say the structure of the game. The fact that you don’t “belong” to any team, unless you are a patron who has enough horses to mount the full team. Otherwise, teams are created based on the handicap of the tournament. A beautiful positive discovery was also the type of people you find around polo. They are mostly very genuine and passionate, very much team players with strong sport values. Polo keeps you very humble. As they say, it’s 80% of your horse performing and 20% the player. So at the end, most of the credit goes to those lovely creatures we are riding.

What has been the highlight for you this 2018 season?

For me, it was definitely to have the honour to play for the UAE Polo team in the lower goal tournament in December. To play in the UAE colours next to HRH Sheikh Maitha, who is my polo muse, was definitely my dream come true.

What are you looking forward to for the upcoming season?

Travelling with polo is a very exciting thing, too. You meet a lot of people that you just easily click with as we share the same deep passion. So I would say, to settle even more in the Al Habtoor Polo Club, hopefully to find one or two more horses that I will fall in love with, and travel with this game as well.