Peter Hyslop's affinity with horses goes back as long as he can remember but he only caught the polo bug five years ago.
"I only started polo when I was about 49 years old," says Hyslop before taking part in the three-day annual Hawke's Bay Wine Country Polo Tournament in Hastings from today.
The 54-year-old pastoral farmer and viticulturist from Crownthorpe, who engaged in eventing and hunting in the halcyon days, but when work and family commitments kicked in in his late 20s after his marriage equine pursuits went on the backburner.
Hyslop did jump into a saddle to help every so often because his wife and daughter are horsey but it wasn't part of his repertoire, although polo gave him the ideal equine flutter.
"It's like riding a bike, really," says the graduate of the defunct Crownthorpe School and Hereworth School before attending Wanganui Collegiate.
"When you've ridden a horse and you've ridden it a lot you don't forget them in a hurry."
Hyslop, fellow minus-one handicapper Scott Jolly, of Kumeu, three-goaler Aaron Vowles, of Central Hawke's Bay, and five-goaler Tommy Wilson, of Waimai, form the Apatu Farms-sponsored Bay A team with the first three members of the home club while the latter "is the gun for hire".
"He's kindly offered to come down to bolster our ranks," he says of former national representative Wilson who will play at No 4 (defender).
While winning will be wonderful, Hyslop says the bigger picture is to have an enjoyable time in the glorious Bay summer climes.
"Look it's up to Scott and I, being the lower members of the team, to do what we're told and bring some structure to the game."
Jolly, who commutes to Elwood Park from November to March to compete in the Wednesday chuckkas and Saturday competition matches, is No 1 (striker) with Hyslop, on his mount, Codds (named after former Wanstead five-goaler Simon Coddington who sold the 10-year-old mare to him three years ago), will come in at No 2 (midfielder) to stoke the engine room with a seasoned Vowles at No 3. Vowles and Wilson have almost three decades of polo experience.
"Individually we've all won tournaments with other teams before but Scott, Aaron and I played together competitively a little last year even though we weren't successful."
The game plan is pretty straightforward — Vowles and Wilson will devise strategies to outfox oppositions and, hopefully, Hyslop and Jolly will try to take their rivals out of the play.
"As long as everybody does their jobs we'll be in with a chance."
Hyslop says, as the first tourney of the season, it tends to bring players out of the woodwork after some dormancy in winter.
"We're lucky in that sense because people are keen to bring their horses and have a hit out," he says, championing the two crisp grounds at Elwood Park.
"There's plenty of history there so it's a good way to start the season."
Extremes in weather aren't desirable with excessive rain likely to hamper the tourney. The mid-20C climes are considered ideal.
Eight teams are in the line up this year with seven of them boasting six-goaler status and one five when play begins at 1pm today and others to follow on the hour.
"We're all, on paper, equally strong as each other, and most teams have a four or five-goaler [individuals] in them so everybody is a chance at the end of the day."
Hyslop says players in the mould of Wilson are clinical on defence but the second they spy room they are away in the blink of an eye.
"Defence is one thing but attack is very important."
The pedigree players tend to foster structure and also take command on the field with instructions that are devoid of ambiguity.
Hyslop says the temperament of the horse is equally significant, especially for late bloomers like him.
"The horse is probably 80 per cent of the game, really," he says.
The equine skills required to smartly make it to the coal face to be able to play the ball or look after it in a collective sense cannot be understated considering the big and powerful animals have to comfortable to stop, start and turn impromptu on the bridle.
"You know a good player with a poor horse is not necessarily a whole lot of good use," he explains.
"But a poor player with a good horse can be of some use because it's not all about hitting the ball as there are a lot of tactics as well."
Hyslop feels it'll be difficult for people to take up polo if they haven't got some sort of horse riding background.
He harbours regrets at not picking up a mallet on horseback much earlier in his life.
"I found it a very addictive sort of thing," he says. "It's the most wonderful thing."
Hyslop says someone once reminded him of how many disciplines in sport people can engage in well into their 40s, 50s and 60s and be competitive.
"You couldn't be doing that with rugby at 50 or all those other types of sports."
Accidents happen, he says, but it seldom ever deters avid followers to wash their hands off a code that's origins can be traced back to central Asia in 600BC.
"I've had a couple of whoopsies myself, fell off a couple of years ago which put me out for six weeks but, to be honest, I was like a bear with a sore head and just wanted to get back into it but you've got to give the body some time to heal."
Hyslop says risk of injuries in polo is no different to any other code but he hasn't come across anyone who has had a season-ending in injury in his time.
Tourney organiser Richard Hunt thanks Lunn & Associates, NZ Frostbands, HB Tree Surgeons, Terry Coffey Consultants, Deakin Motors, Vet Service HB and Growchem for their sponsorship.