India Parker-Smith founded Chukka Wellness to offer fitness workshops to polo players all around the world.
As a keen rider and eventer she recently ventured into to polo scene where she soon saw that despite the physical preparation of its ponies, players had a way to go to train and condition their bodies for the high impact game.
Chukka Wellness now helps polo players around the world to become fitter and stronger athletes using their 3 elements; Fuel, Flexibility and Functional.
We caught up with India to find out more:
They say that Polo follows the sun, where has it taken you so far and what's the world circuit?
Polo is played all over the world - Where there is sun you will find polo!
From January till March polo is most played in the southern hemisphere; Dubai, South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. From May to September players then travel to the UK or European countries to enjoy our summer season. During the average year I will travel to Argentina or Dubai throughout October-February, Sotogrande in April for some pre-season sun and then back to the UK for the summer season. Depending on the pandemic I hope to get to Palm Beach next year.
When did you decide to specialise in Polo training?
I was working in Chelsea, London for 3 years and wanted to shift my training more towards athletes. I then took a spontaneous trip to Argentina to try some polo (I used to own my horses and competed for 10 years but had never tried Polo). Anyone who has played polo knows how addictive the sport is and I fell in love with the fast game and the laid back attitude in Buenos Aires. During my trip I noticed there wasn’t such an emphasis on warming up or stretching your body either side of riding despite it being a high impact and strenuous game.
So I researched the movement patterns of polo, took note of what muscles felt sore after playing, watched many high goal players move around in the saddle and create my own polo-specific exercises. I then set up an Instagram page @chukkawellness and the rest is history.
Polo can comes across as quite a niche world, how does it feel being a woman PT within it?
Polo has always been male dominant, I am assuming this is due to the sport being very physical – however every female polo player I know is super powerful on the polo field. A great aspect of polo is that men and women can play together on the same teams so being a female personal trainer in this world doesn’t phase me at all. I love working with both men and women clients as they are all very focused, determined and strive for peak performance during each training session.
You have worked in some of the most exclusive Polo clubs around the world, which ones are your favourites and why?
I will always have a soft spot for La Tarde Polo Club in Argentina as this was the first Polo club I worked at as a personal trainer. It is the most beautiful Estancia owned by Juan Martin Sarli and his wife Helena Schoeller. They run a very successful polo hotel where guests from all over the world return to each year. Due to Covid, I couldn’t get there this year and miss it dearly! I usually go out and stay with them for 10 weeks at a time.
During the summer I trained a high goal Argentine player at Emsworth Polo Grounds and was lucky enough to watch some of the best players in the world play on their premium polo fields. Most of my clients are based in Windsor which is where you will find some of the most beautiful polo clubs such as Guards, Royal County of Berkshire however my favourite ground is Flemish Farmas it has Windsor Castle in the distance. Throughout the summer I was asked to warm up 2 high goal teams for the Cartier Queen’s Cup and Gold Cup so as lucky enough to spend some time at Flemish Farm.
What does Polo fitness training focus on?
A lot of stretching! You are twisting and rotating your body in all directions during the game of polo and many players forget to stretch which of course leads to injuries.
I aim to bulletproof player’s bodies with a combination of resistance training with bands, functional exercises using balancing aids and some cardio workouts to improve recovery time.
The majority of my exercises are specific to the movement patterns of polo and I try to make each training session enjoyable to clients don’t dread their sessions or see them as a chore.
What are the benefits of training with resistance bands?
Firstly, players will be travelling around the world throughout the year and not all of them will have access to a gym. Resistance bands are small and light so can easily be packed into a suit case!
Secondly, they are so versatile, you can work all areas of the body using a mixture of strengths and sizes.
Polo players need to be strong but supple so gaining a lot of muscle is not a priority. Resistance bands aid in stabilising and strengthening the body whilst keeping the muscles long and lean. I also get my clients to warm up and mobilise using the bands – they are a great piece of equipment to open up the shoulder, hip and ankle joints before exercising or riding.
Do you need to own a horse for training? What would you suggest to someone starting out?
There are many riding schools and polo clubs around so it is not essential to own a horse in order to play polo. It is recommended to have some lessons first and then when you feel it is necessary you may want to purchase a pony. Many players have what we call ‘a string’ of ponies where numbers can range from 2-10 ponies per player. You can also rent ponies for games and tournaments so it is not essential to have your own string from day 1.
You mentioned that players travel a lot from season to season – how do you train clients in other countries.
I also offer international clients zoom training which has been very successful. I have clients in Pakistan, America, Switzerland, Germany and Dubai. I advise my clients to continue training throughout the year so zoom has been a great way to ensure they stay fit even when I am not there in person. I also have a Virtual Fitness Hub where players can access workouts, nutritional guides and mobility routines from their phones wherever they are in the world.
You will be launching a digital member's club in January, what does it offer and who is it aimed at?
The Virtual Equine hub is an online resource designed to help polo players become fitter and stronger athletes. We have provided the tools necessary to bullet-proof a rider’s body and help them strive for peak performance!
The hub is aimed at all riders but specifically polo players (of all levels and abilities). We are currently adding an interactive 8 week Pre-Season Training Programme where players can log in and access the daily workouts, meal plans, motivational tools and so much more.
Not only this but the hub is full of polo-specific workouts, lower body, upper body and core workouts, reaction and decision-making exercises, nutritional guides, stretching and mobility routines, interviews from some of the best players in the world.
Follow India @chukkawellness and discover her virtual equine hub, along with Polo fitness holidays and clinics here.