A high-speed chase is underway in a lush green field as eight uniformed riders, astride majestic horses, confidently manoeuvre its length and breadth. Their weapons of choice are large mallets with which they dexterously aim to hit a small hard ball barely visible in the flurry of man and beast. It suddenly emerges further afield, where a lone rider has broken away from the group in a prescient move. As opposing team members chase his coattails, he quickly picks up pace, always keeping possession of the ball. Before long, he has pushed it across the goal post to clinch the tie-breaking golden goal for a nail-biting finish. The crowd comes alive in cheer and the commentator jubilantly roars, “It is Jaisal Singh who wins the day!”
This is competitive polo at its finest, being played for a chance at winning the coveted Cartier Queen’s Cup. Singh captains the SUJÁN Indian Tigers, one of India’s only teams to be selected to play in the polo championship. “I am elated that we are competing at this level.
A lot of work went into getting the team and our horses to compete globally. It’s an incredible feeling that our national flag is flying on the polo fields of England, especially since the modern version of the game originated in India,” says the 42-year-old, who has had an interesting equestrian journey thus far. He first began playing the game at age 14. In time, however, he fell off the competitive radar and stopped pursuing it in 2005. An urge to revisit the sport led him to start his own team in 2019, which he named the SUJÁN Indian Tigers after his positive-impact conservation safari company. The first property—Sher Bagh—opened in 2000 on the fringes of the Ranthambore National Park. In fact, it was playing polo for the Jodhpur team and spending time in Ranthambore in his younger days that led Singh down the path of ecological conservation. Today, SUJÁN’s programmes across Rajasthan work to conserve biodiversity, preserve heritage and culture, and benefit local communities.
For the Cartier Queen’s Cup—hosted by the Guards Polo Club in England and named after Queen Elizabeth II, who patronised it from its inception in 1960—Singh brought on board two Argentinians, Bautista Bayugar and Francisco Elizalde, with an impressive handicap of 8 each. The fourth team member is 17-year-old English player Louis Hine with a handicap of 5. Having played two matches—a win and a loss—they have quickly become a team to watch. Yet, the road ahead is a challenging one. “We are playing against the world’s top players with a 22-goal handicap (the collective handicap arrived at by adding those of each team member). And there are 17 teams from all over the world,” he explains.
The competition is fierce, and the possibility of serious injuries is a reality one cannot ignore. So, what is it about polo that keeps Singh and others like him coming back for more? “Nothing is as thrilling and challenging. You’re mounted on a horse, moving at breakneck speed to hit a ball without crashing, while keeping your wits about you. Plus, the connection between the man and horse is primeval. Nothing beats it,” he smiles, adding, “You have to be super-fit and well-mounted because horses are everything, and you must have the right team spirit with the right attitude.”
This year, the silver cup for the oldest equine game in the world will be handed over on June 18.