Aiden Nunn has trained some of the world’s best athletes on four hooves.
Some of his charges have gone to work in the United States, South America and the United Kingdom, as some of the best polo ponies to be bred from Wickford Polo.
The breeding stud, located outside Longford, has been breeding polo ponies for the past 25 years and will have some of their best stock competing at Barnbougle Polo on January 19.
Mr Nunn said breeding and training polo ponies was similar to training the next Melbourne Cup winner and had a lot to do with physical build and mental toughness.
“What you’re looking for is a level-headed horse, one that can run faster but when you want him to stop, he’ll stop and be relaxed,” he said.
RELATED STORY:All the faces from Barngbougle’s Polo event
“You want them a bit fast, and a horse that is mentally tough; they need to be able to ride someone off and have that will to want to dominate the other horse.”
Wickford Polo will have 16 playing horses at Barnbougle Polo, which Mr Nunn said was a great event to start off their season.
“Our playing horses head off to Queensland and New South Wales in the next couple of months, so Barnbougle is right at the start of the season,” he said.
Mr Nunn is working with one of Wickford’s horses, Spitfire, an eight-year-old grey who came to the sport of polo a little later in life.
Spitfire has played a few times at Barnbougle and overcame a snake bike ahead of the match last year.
He was being trained and was bitten by a snake on one of his fetlocks, but he made a full recovery quick enough to play at Barnbougle.
Mr Nunn said Wickford breeds polo ponies that are about “three-quarters thoroughbred with a bit of stock horse” in the mix.
“We love the speed of the thoroughbred but also the trainability of the stock horse,” he said.
A polo pony’s training regime starts when they’re two years old, and it takes about four years before they are professional polo-ready.
“You start breaking them in when they’re two, that’s just general riding, learning to canter around and stop.
“By the time they are three they get introduced to the mallet and ball and get used to someone hitting the ball off them.”
At the end of the day they have to be fitter than a race horse, for them it’s like running a Melbourne Cup each time they play a game of poloWickford Polo horse trainer Aiden Nunn
Mr Nunn said each horse had a different reaction to the mallet and ball – some didn’t care at all but others had to have more training to get used to it flying near their head.
Each horse also has a similar training regime – but the intensity varies for each.
“Playing horses have a fitness program, they do four or five kilometres every day for four days a week, then two days a week they are at stickball or play chukkas,” he said.
“At the end of the day they have to be fitter than a racehorse, for them, it’s like running a Melbourne Cup each time they play a game of polo.”
Mr Nunn said height, temperament and athleticism all played their part in a good polo pony but training was mostly about ensuring they had good stamina and endurance.
Some of the other elements, such as their temperament and mental toughness, has to come innately from the animal – when you find that spark, it is one of the most rewarding parts of training.
“The biggest thrill for me is to breed a horse from a foal and play in a high goal final; seeing the younger horses progress, that’s the best part about it,” Mr Nunn said.
Barnbougle Polo will be played on January 19 and will host three games made of teams with Tasmanian and interstate members.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and his brother Hamish will be among the players competing at the event, among other national and international players.
Mr Nunn will also be among the players competing and has played at the event since its inception.
“I go to Queensland and New South Wales in the winter months to play polo there,” he said.
He said he was drawn to the sport after getting a taste for it while playing polocrosse as a young man, and landed the job at Wickford when he was 16.
“I have five brothers, and we are a football family, I was the only one out of the five who was interested in horses,” he said.
His uncle bred racehorses and Mr Nunn said he was interested in horses from a young age, however only learned to ride when he was about 10 years old.
After leaving school, he got a job at the Mowbray racecourse and was introduced to the team at Wickford.
“They were looking for a young horseman and I just sort of managed to stumble across the guys here.
“I was lucky to get the job and then they introduced me to polo and I’ve played for the past four years.”
He said polocrosse and his other hobbies, such as cricket and football, all fell by the wayside as he developed a keen interest in the sport.
“I enjoy the speed and the aspect that I get to play multiple horses,” he said.
“It’s pretty tricky trying to hit a ball at 60-kilometers per hour with one hand, it’s a bit of an adrenalin rush.”
The speed aside, there is a real element of danger to those who play the sport – with a few players ending up falling off their mounts.
Mr Nunn said the element of danger was part of what made polo exciting, to play and watch, and that there were “usually a few crushers” every game.
“A couple of years ago I fell off and busted my leg, you try to remember to stop drop and roll, but sometimes you’re in an awkward position and you can’t fall safely but you try to tumble,” he said.
Mr Nunn said playing at Barnbougle was always a positive experience, not only for the horses but for the Tasmanian players.
“It’s always good to play at home,” he said.
“The field at Barnbougle is the best that you’ll play anywhere.”
He said the event was good for the horses because it got them exposed to an event with large crowds and was good exposure for the Wickford brand.
There are only a handful of Tasmanian polo players and, while Mr Nunn said it would be good to get the sport up and running in the state, he didn’t think it would be possible because of our size.
- WHAT: Barnbougle Polo
- WHEN: January 19, 2019
- WHERE: Barnbougle, Waterhouse Road, Bridport
- TICKET PRICES: general admission: $40; car boot premium: $40; car boot parking: $195; Stella Artois marquee (must be 18+): $210.