The UKPA have announced their new multi horse rules for 2022, in a move that is guaranteed to please some members while highly annoying others. During 2021 the UKPA carried out a trial and allowed A grade players to use multiple horses in nearly every tournament, with no restrictions on the number of horses in use, as well as allowing multiple horses in other grades in a few select tournaments. After the end of the season they carried out a survey of the entire membership to get feedback and decide how to proceed for 2022.
Many expected that the result would be a foregone conclusion, with the A grade as a minimum allowed to continue using multiple horses and many thinking it would then be extended down the grades, if not in 2022 then in future years. However, instead the UKPA has announced that they will instead go back to a system more similar to the one in place pre 2021, with four tournaments designated as multi horse tournaments in which all grades can use up to two horses in the tournament. These tournaments do not include the National Championships. Pre 2021 the UKPA used to designate the first two or three tournaments of the year as multi horse and often any tournaments after the national championships were also multi horse tournaments (editor’s note: and even if they weren’t officially designated to be honest by that stage of the season everyone had stopped caring about the rules anyway….).
The reason for this decision seems to be the UKPA’s desire to strike a balance between allowing more opportunities to develop young horses, while not making the sport be more expensive, appear more elitist or risk creating a two tier system for players who could not afford multiple horses. These were always potentially going to be the competing factors but there were two other factors that were expected to push the decision in the other direction. Firstly, there was pressure from some in the A grade to allow multiple horses to ensure the overall pace of the grade and individual games remained fast all weekend, to help get players ready for the next World Cup. Secondly, there was the horse welfare argument that some players used, that more horses meant less playing time per horse and this would ensure overall longer playing careers. However, there were also counter arguments that actually players having multiple horses meant they would have less focused on making sure each one was appropriately fit for a full game if required, and might be more willing to risk an injury on one horse as they had others to play.
Overall the UKPA seems to have decided that they need to continue to strike a balance between all these competing factors. This will definitely anger some of those at the top of the sport, with one anonymous A grader telling us, “This is complete balderdash, we are considering legal action. We have been feeding strings of horses all winter ready for the 2022 season and now we can only play two? And we can’t even use them at Nationals? I’m sorely tempted to stand for election at the UKPA AGM in November. I mean, I won’t because that’s all far too much work but I am sorely tempted, you mark my words!” (editor’s note: When we say “Anonymous” we could also perhaps say “Imaginary”…..).
Interestingly, though it is worth noting that of the two teams that made the A grade final last year, Kent Target and Highlanders, it was certainly not the case that all players had two or more horses for the tournament, with many still simply having one top horse that they relied on throughout, and it would seem possible, given the decision that the UKPA have taken, that they did receive feedback from A grade players who did not support multi horse tournaments becoming the rule for the whole season. The UKPA have not published detailed feedback by grade, however they have produced a summary of the feedback they received and this, along with more detailed explanations of the rules, can be found here. What is clear from the decision they have taken is there must have been a fairly high level of negative feedback from players. (editor’s note: the other option is they have been bought off in the best traditions of UK governments.)
So for the moment UK Polocrosse can continue to say it is the “King of the One Horse Sports”. However, one thing we are sure of is the multi horse debate probably won’t just disappear and we would expect to hear far more about it from both its supporters and its opponents!