THERE IS no age for learning something new. That was the mantra 42-year-old Rinaa Shah followed when she set out to learn polo six years ago. Mumbai-based Shah has been a shoe designer for the past 15 years, but her fascination with polo started when she attended a match in Mumbai. Shah was merely looking to take up a new sport to whet her appetite for adventure. What she didn’t know then was that the intensity and speed of polo would make her fall in love with the game. “I had never ridden before. The adrenaline rush and watching the players on these majestic animals made me fall in love with the sport,” says Shah.
Having no prior experience of riding, Shah was a rank outsider. So she decided to start from scratch and spent almost two years learning the nuances of riding. She first went to an amateur riders club in Mumbai and then to riding schools in Argentina and California, US, to learn the basics of polo, finding not many schools in the country.
For two years, Shah put her work on hold and dedicated all her time to riding. “I play decent polo now, having participated in my first match in 2013. I haven’t reached the top level yet, but I try and play whenever and wherever I can,” says Shah.
When Shah started out, she was surprised at the dismal number of women polo players in India. Most of them, she says, opt for dressage and jumping since polo is considered a “rough and dangerous sport”. Her family was a little hesitant in the beginning as well owing to injuries she sustained while training. “It is not a developed sport… But a lot of people are now trying to bring about a change,” she says.
Shah herself has taken her passion for the sport to another level by founding her own team, Rinadli Polo, in March 2014 in Mumbai. The team, which has four members, has competed in tournaments across India and even internationally, with the most recent being a tournament in Santa Barbara, California.
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Joining her in her pursuit to make the sport more popular in the country are Shah’s four horses: Moscow, Bella, Rock n Roll and Dolphina. “It’s a very personal game and you need to train the horses according to your play. The game, after all, is about the horses and how skillfully you can control them,” says Shah, who also launched a collection of equestrian fashion accessories and equipment in 2013 at the Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai.
While Shah is doing her bit to take the sport to more people in India, she believes it is extremely important that initiatives to promote polo are taken up across the country. “Riding clubs need to promote polo more. They should hire more professionals to teach the sport as well,” she feels.