Horse Whisperer: Samir Suhag

In association with U.S. Polo Assn.

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India’s most decorated polo player, Samir Suhag, is one of the most stylish and well-turned-out guys out there. In a Maxim exclusive, the Arjuna awardee decodes the sport and his style mantra for us.

Maxim: Shooting for magazines is something you’ve done a lot. What did you think about this shoot?
Samir Suhag: The shoot was really good. The weather gods were kind and, thankfully, it wasn’t a very hot day today. The horses and the dogs cooperated and all the elements came together beautifully.

M: Yes, Maxim is blessed! What was the best part for you?
SS: Besides being pampered and looked after, I think it was when my mare, Afreen, just stood there listening to whatever I was saying to her and posed better than anybody else.

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M: Haha. Yes, she’s a star. How would you describe your polo style?
SS: I’ve been known as a team player. I usually play in the position of three or four, in which three is the pivot of the team and four is the back. I’ve been playing in those positions for the last 20 years. I came up in the handicap (ranking) quite early in my life because I knew how to strategise for my team and help them in the best way possible. I try and do that in my life as well. But I have to say it’s easier to do on the field than in real life.

M: And your personal style?
SS: I’ll either go for absolutely casual or completely formal. Normally, I don’t have an in-between.

M: That’s a good way to be. What are the three things every man should have in his style repertoire?
SS: A three-piece suit or a tuxedo. I’m a big fan of the three-piece suit. Plus, a nice watc and a nice cologne.

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M: You are one of India’s finest polo players. What’s been your most memorable win?
SS: The first moment that stands out was when my father and I won the IPA National Championships, the second father-son duo to achieve that feat after Rao Raja Hanut, the legend from Jodhpur. The other moment that is very special is when my daughter and I won a trophy in December in Jodhpur again. Having said that, every time you play a game, win a trophy and represent the country is special in its own way… but the father and son act stands out.

M: We’ll admit it, we don’t know too much about polo. What are the most important aspects a budding player should focus on?
SS: You have to be true to the work you are doing. You have to be true to your efforts. There are no shortcuts in life. If you try to take one, the game will make sure you are back down to start-off again. Second, it is a team game. You have to pay attention to each member of the team. You need to know each horse of each team member. In a particular situation, a player might be very good but he may not be on a good horse or vice-versa. Instances like these can change the game within seconds. As much as polo is about the player and his skills, it is also about the animal.

M: What are the core characteristics of a good polo horse?
SS: Foremost, the horse needs to have a very good temperament. The animal has to be able to understand what we really require of him. It’s amazing how quickly they can start disliking you for a period of time. You have to build that relationship again. That’s very important. The agility of a polo pony is incredible, and the athleticism of a polo pony is the best of any equestrian sport.

M: On the one hand, you are handling a powerful animal and on the other, you need to maintain speed and accuracy. How do you manage it?
SS: It’s quite surprising that, despite being such powerful animals, horses are very gentle creatures. They understand the slightest of movements—as your weight shifts or your hands move, or just a change in your temper. It is actually very easy, especially if you understand what the horse is feeling at that particular time. If you give him confusing directions you are going to end up in trouble.

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M: What has been your toughest moment?
SS: It would have to be the injuries during the 2000 season. The worst injury anyone can have in polo is a head injury. It was severe. I was concussed badly. It took me a while to overcome that. Then, in the third game, I broke my collarbone. A few games later, I dislocated a disc. Those six-eight months dealing with injuries was very tough. But I am glad I could overcome that phase because of my family’s support and determination.

M: We’ve seen many careers end prematurely because of injury. What’s your advice to young players?
SS: The best way to fight an injury is, first, to avoid it. But polo—being such a fast and furious game—is difficult to predict. So the best thing to do is to stay fit and alert on the ground. If your body is fit enough, you’ll recover from an injury faster than if you are unfi t. You have to be dedicated to your regime and to getting your body’s fitness to a stage where you will recover fast… so that injuries don’t become a hurdle.

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M: Is there any particular fitness regime?
SS: Polo is the only game where a powerful animal is crucial to the game. You don’t only need strength and agility, you also need a lot of cardio. It is a mix of everything. You have to be doing a lot of cardio, you have to hit the gym for building strength, plus yoga for flexibility. When we started off there were no gym balls. But now that we have them, they allow you to focus on balance and your core.

M: We don’t hear too much about women polo players. How come?
SS: There are about six or seven women who are currently playing polo, including my daughter. We are planning to have ladie sonly matches this time, with four Indian women on each side. In polo, men and women play on the same team. So their handicap and fitness matter a lot. I’m sure they can give us a run for our money once they get into it.

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M: While on that subject, our first social campaign, #MakeHerSmile, seeks to ensure men do all the things—however small—that make every woman in their lives happy. What are some of those things, you think?
SS: The biggest thing for a woman is if a man can help out with household chores. It could be anything—go out shopping with her once in a while or help her in the kitchen. You learn to respect what women do at home. If they have corporate jobs, then you should help out with the chores anyway. It’s not a big job but it takes the burden off of her. That’ll show her that you respect what she does.

M: With many actors and corporate houses now owning or supporting polo teams, does the future of the sport look bright?
SS: In the last couple of years, we’ve had a lot of corporates coming into the game and, yes, it is growing quite steadily. There was a time when only the Army kept it going. There was a slowdown in the economy in the late 2000s when corporates took a step back, but it is picking up again. In the last four or five years, I’ve seen it grow quite a bit. There are a lot of new centres coming up in India. Bhavnagar in Gujarat is one of those places where we witnessed a huge crowd of 25,000 people coming out to watch the final. Chennai is picking up again, and there are a lot of youngsters in Hyderabad who are doing very well. It’s a good boost to the game.

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Well, count us in to see the next one.

 

Photographs by Muneesh Tarsem
Styling by Isha Tikku
Grooming by Rashmi Shastri
Sameer is wearing U.S. Polo Assn. apparel.