Rasmus Jorgensen | October 29, 2017
When you play the game of elephant polo, as one does, rules must be followed, particularly on the side of the elephants. No elephant can sit down in front of its goal in order to defend it. That’s a foul. No more than two elephants from the same team can be on one half of the field at one time. Foul. And an elephant cannot use its trunk to pick up the ball.
They do anyway. “They'll lob it. They'll pick it up and kind of throw it, and it's funny. You get a good reaction from the crowd,” says David Partridge ’13EMBA. Since 2014, he has been an elephant polo player at the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament in Thailand; this past March he played for the Benihana of Tokyo team.
When the sport was invented, a soccer ball was the target of the mallets, but the elephants soon learned that there is great fun to be had by stepping on those to cause an explosion. Since then the game has been played with regular polo balls, which are more difficult to hit from high up with a 90-inch long mallet.
“It's not like getting on a horse where you hop up,” says Partridge. “You're 8 feet in the air, so they built a scaffolding with a staircase. So you climb up the scaffolding, and they pull the elephant into a stall with a rope hanging right over him, and you swing out and mount your elephant and you strap in, you've got the stirrups, and then you taxi out of that mounting gate area.”
The spectacle is more than an exhibition of how to take a game to a new level. The real significance is in the tournament proceeds, which are donated to elephant-related work. One of the beneficiaries is the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, which rescues elephants from the streets, protects their habitats and helps mahouts build financial independence.
Mahouts are the people who train, work with and ride elephants. Many of them live in northern Thailand, and a few dozen bring elephants to the polo site. Mahouts take part in the games, too, sitting just behind the elephant’s head. Driving.
“The mahout sits right in front of me, and on the back of his shirt are all the commands, translated from English to Thai,” Partridge says. Sai noi: Left a little. Dee mak: Good work. “It's just a great time. The elephants love it. They're so intelligent.”