Richard Britten-Long: Chairman of Cirencester Park Polo Club
PUBLISHED: 13:46 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:59 20 February 2013
Richard Britten-Long is chairman of Cirencester Park Polo Club. Now semi-retired - he sold a property fund management business last year - he farms a 1,000-acre family estate in Worcestershire, where he keeps around 40 horses.
"The job of chairman of Cirencester Park Polo Club is no different from that of any other company - it's to coordinate and to lead from the front. My ambition is to restore - if that's the right word - Cirencester to being the lovely country club it was in the old days, where all the locals could pop down, have a look, have a picnic and participate in all the fun. I want to reach a much wider audience.
For me, polo was an instant passion. I was born and brought up in Kenya, in an area now known as Lake Nakuru National Park. My family are third generation Kenyans, and my mother and father both played. One of my first recollections of matters polo was my father's wooden practice horse, which was stuck on the lawn on one of our first farms in the Kenya highlands: aged around eight, I couldn't understand what on earth my father was doing sitting on a wooden horse which wouldn't move!
I rode from a very young age. We had about five or six thousand head of cattle; my father was an incredibly good rancher and specialised in Boran cattle, which have a hump on their back. We used to ride out the whole time on the farm, which was an incredible experience; because I looked after the game control, I carried a gun. We'd stop, pitch a tent, and have a lovely time; it was Boy Scouts times 10.
I didn't start to play polo properly myself until I was about 18. I think, if I'm absolutely honest, I took it up to begin with simply to emulate my father. He was a two or three [goal player: a polo handicap] and my mother was the same. The name 'Long' is part of Kenya - like Delamare or Scott - and we'd host a huge number of polo tournaments. Our house was always packed with players. My mother had some rather nice horses because she was a very big breeder of race horses.
The minute I took up the game, I loved it. I was never taught anything, but I suppose I'd been watching polo at that stage for at least 10 years. I knew the rules backwards - though I never paid much attention to them, quite frankly, because everyone in Kenya was what we used to call 'colonial ball-chasers'; if there was a white ball, they just went for it. Perfectly appalling polo!
When I was young, the audience was made up of people who knew each other very well; there was a certain amount of elitism and there was the cachet about going to the polo. One of the great things I've seen in my life is the way that has been diluted. Today, it reaches a much wider audience. A lot of that is due to the way the Hurlingham Polo Association [the governing body in this country] and, indeed, individual clubs have publicised the game; it's also thanks to the sheer numbers of young people who play polo in the Pony club. In our day, there were very few. That gives me a most wonderful feeling of confidence for the sport in the future.
I'm patron of a team called Laird, which people can see play in Warwickshire Cup matches at Cirencester. One of the great things about polo is that it really is a team game - there's no room for egocentricity. Teams consist of usually one patron (who's useless, like me!); all the others are extremely high handicap players. This is one of the very few sports where you can go out and play at the very top standard when you yourself aren't terribly good at it. Having said that, I do have an advantage at my time of life: age and treachery will always out-manoeuvre youth and skill!
If I were to 'sell' the sport to someone who'd never been before, there are several things I'd say. Firstly, there's no doubt that people enjoy following dangerous sports. Polo is the second fastest contact-sport ballgame after ice hockey. In a worst-case scenario, if two horses are meeting each other at 25-30mph flat out, then that's a 60mph collision. Thank god it doesn't happen that often.
Secondly, because there are so many people with horses nowadays, polo enables them to see a totally different side of how horses behave and how they're trained. People know about racing; they know about Pony Club; they know about going for a hack, and show jumping. This is another means of expanding their enjoyment of something they already do. If they come to Cirencester, they will see the leading players, the best horses, the best polo in England. It's also a great way of raising money for charity: polo supports many good causes across the board.
You don't need to understand the rules to come along. You can simply enjoy watching the horses and the skill of the game. The other wonderful aspect is the beautiful, beautiful setting: a real bit of England. One of the privileges we have as a club is that we're based at Cirencester Park, entirely due to the auspices of the Bathurst and the Apsley family, and there's something very special about it. It is relaxed; not snobby, not hoity-toity.
My message to anyone who has never been before is simply to come with your children and your family to enjoy a sport. You're so welcome at Cirencester because we enjoy your company as much as I hope you're going to enjoy ours