Photographer Aline Coquelle captures the illustrious game of polo in a new coffee table book from Assouline.
In 2003, Parisian photographer Aline Coquelle began traveling to document the sport of polo as it’s played all over the world, from the USA to Europe, Mongolia, Pakistan, India, South America, and Dubai.
She was soon established as the foremost chronicler of the “sport of kings,” her photos of players, trainers, horses and spectators, on and off the field, “celebrating the courage, strength and speed” of the game, and its undeniable “elegance and allure”—whether played by English aristocrats or nomadic tribesmen.
In 2009 Assouline published her impossibly gorgeous photographs in a book titled Polo: The Nomadic Tribe, which won praise from the likes of the Prince of Wales, an avid polo player for most of his life. Now the famed French luxury publisher is coming out with a long-awaited follow-up, Polo Heritage, which if anything is even more beautiful than the original. Coquelle believes “saving and transcending tradition is the ultimate modernity,” and her photos have a timeless quality to them, whether in black-and-white or lush color.
To accompany the visual feast, Coquelle corralled a number of high-profile names in the polo universe to contribute their thoughts, including Jean-Luc Chartier, president of Paris’ storied Bagatelle Polo Club, who gives a brief history of the sport. “Polo was born 2,500 years ago among the horsemen of the Central Asian steppes,” he writes.
“Later, the first traces of this semi-sport, semi-warrior activity were found in Persia. Noble art par excellence, it was the privilege of the elites and of the monarch himself. Darius the First, King of Persia (522-486 BC), is believed to have been the first great polo player. Keeping with tradition, polo remains a prestigious sport, for the elites and non-elitist…. No other pretends to combine as many qualities. Courage, endurance, submission, discipline, calm, judgment, speed of observation and sangfroid ensure that polo remains a gentlemen’s sport.”
Billionaire luxury goods scion Patrick Guerrand-Hermès, former president of the Federation of International Polo and founder of the Chantilly Polo Club, notes that “illustrious champions” of the field including Winston Churchill, Generals Patton and MacArthur, Malcolm Little and the Olympians Tommy Hitchcock, Averell Harriman, Juan Carlos Harriott and Georges Catroux, “lent this unique sport its legendary character. “
“From the early days of the twentieth century, when the romanticism of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby held sway in the West, certain personalities elevated this dream game’s allure, including Coco Chanel’s lovers—from Étienne Balsan to the second Duke of Westminster and, lastly, Porfirio Rubirosa.”
Before his passing earlier this year, lifelong polo enthusiast HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, even contributed his thoughts on the game: “A polo match begins long before the teams line up on the field to play…. The match then begins, and all the previous anxiety and planning, organization and practice, are put to the test in forty minutes of flashing sticks, galloping ponies, curses, bumps, shouts, hits to warm the heart and misses to chill the spine.”
Nacho Figueras, one of the world’s top polo players—he is sometimes known as the “David Beckham of polo”—also famous as a Ralph Lauren model, contributed a preface to the book, which begins by noting that “Winston Churchill used to say, ‘A polo handicap is a passport to the world,’ which to me is the best way to summarize how I feel about polo in just one sentence.”
His fellow Argentinian polo star, Adolfo Cambiaso, who has broken all of the polo world records and holds a near-impossible ten-goal handicap, adds that “In Argentina, polo is more than a simple sport. It is a way of life which goes back generations.”
Renowned polo journalist and author Herbert Spencer offers that, “No other game in which one group of players competes against another offers such a combination of power, speed, timing, teamwork and that element of risk which appeals to the average spectator…. The game demands from both man and horse the maximum of strength, agility, endurance and courage.”
However, not all of polo’s most important figures are men. British model, racing driver and TV personality Jodie Kidd is one of the world’s best known players. As is Clare Mountbatten, Marchioness of Milford Haven, who has been playing for nearly 25 years. “I love the horses, the speed, the skill, the competition, the camaraderie and the lifestyle,” she writes. “Win or lose, I always come off the field feeling elated in some way.”