Candid chat with Indian polo player Rina Shah

Mar 14, 2014, 09:35 IST | Ruchika Kher

She broke barriers as one of India's earliest accessory designers in the 1990s. Now, Rina Shah is treading new terrain again; this time, as one of India’s few woman polo players

In a cricket-crazy nation, sports like polo often struggle for recognition, despite having strong Indian roots, and are generally not sought-after choices, especially for women. But, Rina Shah, who founded fashion brand Rinaldi Polo in the 1990s and was designing bespoke accessories for celebrities such as Kareena Kapoor, Bipasha Basu, Shilpa Shetty, Naomi Campbell and Natalie Portman, was determined to transform her passion into action and hence, galloped her way to a polo field.

Rina Shah engages in a game of polo

Fall and rise
“I went to see a polo match in December 2009 and in 2010, I took up riding,” recalls Shah, who re-evaluated her decision after a couple of falls, but eventually packed her bags and left for Argentina around November 2011, to get trained in the sport.

Rina in a polo match

After her Argentine stint, the 40-year-old followed it up with more training in UK and Santa Barbara, which resulted in frequent visits to Jaipur. “Horse riding and polo are very addictive and once you get hooked, there is no looking back. The adrenaline rush and passion to play a good game made me push harder to learn and play this game,” shares the player.

Rina Shah with team  members of the Rinaldi polo team

However, Shah’s path on horseback was no cakewalk. “It is a very difficult sport to play,” she reveals, adding, “Not only do you control a horse, which is way heavier than you, but you also have to control the stick and hit the ball at a very high speed. I have jumped out of the plane, surfed, played squash and have raced cars, but never have I experienced something like this.”

Team spirit
To take a step forward in her quest to get more involved with the game, Shah formed a team, Rinaldi Polo Team, featuring leading Indian polo players such as Samir Suhag, Gaurav Sehgal, Chirag Parekh, Karan Ahmed and herself.

The accolades for Rina’s polo team

Rinaldi Polo Team started playing their first Four Goal Tournaments in the city from March 10 and will play the last game of the tournament, today. They will begin their second tournament of 6 Goal, from March 17 to 21 in Mumbai.

“I wanted to own a team since I was 15 years old. When I would watch American football and basketball, the feeling of playing a team sport and owning a team seemed impossible. But as I started getting better in the sport, I wanted to fulfill my dream,” she puts things into perspective.

It’s a (wo)man’s world
Shah rues the fact that the population of women, who play polo in India, can be counted on your fingers. “It is a dangerous sport and in India, it is male dominated, so, women stay away from it. But I hope to inspire more women to take up riding and playing polo,” she says and further reveals that she has already made some of her women friends start riding.
However, Shah is of the opinion that the younger generation needs to take up the sport to give it more prominence in the country.

When we asked about the steps needed to give impetus to polo in India, she responded, “Firstly, Indian parents need to be more open-minded and worry less. They should support and encourage their children. We can do with some better riding schools in the country as well.”

Did you know?
>> The name ‘Polo’ is said to have been derived from the Tibetan word ‘Pulu’ meaning ball

>> Emperor Akbar was the first to introduce a set of rules for the game

Fit on the field
“In the last two years, my lifestyle has changed completely. I was a party animal who never woke up early in the morning. But since I have started riding, I wake up at 5.30 am and ride at 6.30 am daily. Twice a week, I play squash. I also swim two times a week. Recently, I have started weight training too. This sport requires you to be extremely fit and possess immense stamina and discipline.” —  Rina Shah on her fitness regime.

Her Polo idols
>> Adolfo Cambiaso
>> Facundo Pieres

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