Adrian Lees: Award-Winning Carriage Driver
PUBLISHED: 13:33 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013
Adrian Lees is a non-playing member of Cirencester Park Polo Club. Being in a wheelchair hasn't stopped him from riding when he was younger and becoming an award-winning carriage driver...
I got interested in polo about seven or eight years ago. Before then, I'd never watched it being played, though I'd seen the polo ground in Cirencester Park - my dad had pushed me on sponsored walks and things like that.
But when I got my [mobility] scooter rather than just the wheelchair, I could go that bit further myself. I happened to be in Cirencester Park one day when I heard the microphones from a polo game and wondered what was going on. I stopped to watch it and, within a few minutes, I was hooked: the speed, the skill, just the whole atmosphere. If you're not horsy and you've not ridden, it's hard to know exactly what's going on: they make it look so easy, but it's not! I've done carriage driving in the past - cone competitions, where you have to steer round obstacles. Although the pace is much slower with carriage driving, it was enough to give me an idea of how much skill these players actually have. To be able to stop and turn a horse at 35mph is incredible: it has to be seen to be believed.
I've always been 'horsy', which isn't surprising as I've lived in Cirencester all my life! My Gramp bought me a pony as a child. Then, when I was in my early 20s, I got involved with carriage-driving groups, one at Southrop and one at Hampton Fields. I really enjoyed the 'control' side of it - but the social was great, too. At Southrop, we used donkeys as well as
ponies. The two groups have now folded, which is a shame as I'd love to get back into it.
So when it came to polo, I suppose my horsy background helped; but what also attracted me was the friendly atmosphere. Over a couple of seasons, I went up more and more until I was going most Sundays. I got talking to people such as Nick [Musgrave, the club manager] and one or two of the players: they'd often speak when they walked past.
I know polo has this 'posh' name for itself but, as far as I'm concerned, the 'posh' people are the nice people. They're not pretenders; they're very real. I met Mark Vestey who is also in a wheelchair, and we spoke a common language.
When the Vesteys' team, which I follow, had a real winning streak one season, I was included in the celebrations, and not once did I feel out of place. I've definitely found people I feel closer to at the polo grounds than I have in other places. With respect, when you're in a wheelchair, you go into town and you never know what's going to happen: no such thing at the polo. Never have I felt any danger up there whatsoever: never threatened, never vulnerable, never uncomfortable.
It's true that the rules of polo are complicated and I didn't understand them at all to begin with - still have trouble now! But talking to Tamara, Nina and Mark [Vestey family], you manage. Mind you, sometimes Tamara will be waiting to play and I'll be going, 'Tamara, what was that for?' and she'll say, 'Haven't got a clue!' To be fair, it can be difficult to see exactly what's going on if you're sitting a distance from the action or at an odd angle. Even if you don't understand, though, it doesn't spoil it. You're still looking at it from the skill level.
The higher the handicap, the faster the game will be - there's no doubt about that - but it doesn't mean to say the lower handicap games aren't exciting: you can still get some close competitive matches. It can be dangerous: I've seen some nasty accidents. But there again, when you think about how many games are played, it puts it into proportion. When I was doing the carriage driving, people used to say I was brave but I'd never think about it. If you worried, you wouldn't do anything.
I enjoy all sorts of horse events. A friend and I always go to Badminton Horse Trials on the Saturday. Dad likes his horse racing: the Hunter Chase Evening in May is a nice one to go to. We like point to point as well. As far as I'm concerned, the best course is at Maisemore Park, near Gloucester. You stand overlooking a natural bowl, with the river running along the back, and watch them doing circuits in the bottom. You can see all the way round with the naked eye: it's spectacular.
If you like that sort of thing, there's a good chance you'll enjoy the polo, too. What would I say to someone who's not convinced is: Go and have a look! It's the only way to find out.