Polo…and a horse with a hole.
Oh dear – Prince Harry’s in trouble again. But not, on this occasion, for partying all night. Or drinking too much.
No. This time it’s for ‘animal cruelty’. He was photographed playing polo on a horse with a bloodied flank, apparently a spur injury.
Of course, there was uproar, with the sport’s governing body, the Hurlingham Polo Association, insisting there would be ‘an inquiry’. A sop to the resulting media frenzy, more like. Because in horse sports, horses (and humans) sometimes get injured. And mostly, such injuries are accidental. But of course there’s no such thing as an ‘accident’ nowadays, is there? Someone must be blamed.
So let’s look a bit more closely at this one.
The horse was grey. We all know how far a little blood can go, and on such a pale coat a tiny smear can give the appearance of a gore-fest once it’s been spread around by someone’s boot. The attending vet described the injury as ‘an abrasion’ and said that the horse was right as rain in twenty minutes. Steeplechasers get scratches from jumping birch fences all the time. It’s an occupational hazard, like small boys skinning their knees playing football.
Unfortunately, the vet (I’m assuming ‘he’ was male) then sullied his professional reputation by saying he doubted the injury was caused by a spur because the horse was not marked equally, on both flanks, as would be the case if spurs were misused. That’s cobblers for a start. How does he think polo players get their horses to move sideways when riding-off an opponent?
So it just might have been a spur – these things happen, occasionally. Maybe it was worn, or it broke: equipment can fail in use, but one hopes the Prince’s stint in the Blues and Royals would have drummed in that old army adage: check your kit. And every rider whose horse is injured during competition knows that horrible feeling of guilt, deep in the gut, telling them it’s their fault. Even when it’s not. Because without wishing to sound maudlin, riders love their horses.
But if it wasn’t Prince Harry being (accidentally) cruel to his horse, what cut its side? Being caught by the spur of another player during a melee has been suggested, but given the way spurs fit, I doubt that’s what happened. Now – a pointed buckle tongue from a spur strap, or a sharp edge on the ‘mushroom’ shaped fitting some spur straps attach to – one of those is much more likely.
I blame the umpires. Blood on a horse’s flank is notoriously difficult to see from the saddle, but one of the two umpires on the field should have been able to spot it; the referee on the sidelines was quite likely too far away, given the size of a polo field. A horse with a leg injury or even a flapping bandage would be noticed straight away and pulled out, so why not this one? Slapped wrists all round, I think.
The animal rights lobby are having a field day. Well, they would do. ‘Prince Harry in cruelty scandal!’ is grist to their mill. I sometimes wonder if these people have actually had to care for any animal long-term, let alone a working animal. Oops – I forgot – ‘working’ and ‘animal’ don’t go together in these idiots’ vocabulary. It’s all ‘cruelty’, isn’t it? I bet the RSPCA will soon launch an investigation. After all, they’re no longer interested in strays, only in prosecuting irresponsible owners for maximum publicity.
I have a pair of polo spurs. I bought them, as a young rider, when my lower leg couldn’t always be guaranteed to stay in the correct place. The humane ball-ends meant that an overly enthusiastic, or accidental, dig never did the horse any harm. I still use them today if I need spurs, which is not that often. Maybe if this particular polo pony is thin-skinned, HRH needs to check what he’s wearing on his boots before he jumps on it between chukkas. Just to be on the safe side.
But deliberate cruelty? Frankly, that’s laughable.
Picture © www.princeharry.co.uk