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Lives changed through horses and Polo

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Polo’s known as the Sport of Kings, but a grassroots programme in Hastings is making the game accessible to more than just royalty – and changing lives as a result.

Birchleigh Polo School is the brainchild of Richard Kettle, and at his property in Pakipaki he’s taking young people who need a helping hand, teaching them how to ride horses and engage in the game of polo, giving them skills and confidence that benefit all aspects of their lives.

The programme was one of this year’s recipients of a Hastings District Council single-year community grant – awarded to support organisations and individuals who are making a difference to the lives of others in the community, and generally increasing wellbeing. 

Mr Kettle said the Birchleigh Polo School had been running for more than 10 years now, offering students at Flaxmere College and Hastings Girls’ High School challenges and opportunities they wouldn’t usually have the chance to experience. “We take young people who the schools put forward who might be struggling in the school environment, or just need a helping hand, and they are taught everything about horses from the ground up - how to treat and respect them, discover what they give back in return, general life skills, plus the chance to learn the game of Polo, which in itself presents them with out of their comfort zone challenges.” 

He said over the years, those taking part had come out with increased skills and confidence, making them better students at school and all-round better family and community members. 

Teachers from the schools and whānau were also involved, and it was really rewarding when whānau came along to watch them in action and cheer them along, he said. 

Some of the students carried on in the sport, either as grooms, or players – one student from Flaxmere College, Hugh Moss, gained his handicap last year. 

Applications for this year’s single community grant funding round opened on March 22 for projects starting in July this year, and close on May 7. 

Go to to find out more on how to apply.

1 April 2022

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