IT MAY be the oldest in Britain, but Cheshire polo club is still one of the fastest growing.
Based at Little Budworth by Oulton Park motor racing track, membership has doubled in the last five years as people look to play a sport favoured by everyone from royalty to blacksmiths.
Club chairman Derrick Lyon said the sport is a thrill-a-minute blend of horse skills and action.
"We have a strong membership and the sport is very popular with players of various ages," he added.
"The popularity of the game is certainly increasing across the country. There are young players who have come up through pony clubs and there is a healthy interest in the game among 30-year-olds.
"This age bracket in the club's membership has witnessed a significant influx over the past three years.
"I first became interested in polo almost 10 years ago after my daughter, Nina, read Jilly Cooper's "Polo" and decided to take up the sport. Polo offered me a thrill that I hadn't experienced since my rugby playing days 30 years earlier."
Cheshire has been under its present name only since 1951 but is actually an amalgamation of three much older clubs - Manchester (founded in 1872), Wirral (1885) and Bowdon (1891). In 1877 the club moved to Trafford Park and came back into the county of Cheshire to grounds at Ashley in 1906.
At Ashley, Manchester Polo Club amalgamated with Bowdon and in 1939, having transferred to Oulton, Little Budworth joined forces with Wirral Polo Club. After the Second World War the club was revived under its present name in time for the 1951 season.
Many links with the past are retained and valued at Cheshire Polo Club. One of the top trophies is the Cheshire Champion Cup, presented originally to Liverpool Polo Club by lady members in 1911.
There are also links through Wirral Polo Club and one of the largest trophies in the country is played for every season - namely The Wirral Ladies Cup, which was won last season by Henbury Polo Team.
A large crowd at Cheshire Polo Club were treated to a fast and free-flowing game. The ground was in great shape and the crowd were sun-drenched throughout the weekend with both players and spectators enjoying the tournament.
Club secretary Sheryl Rollinson said the atmosphere is one of the main attractions.
"I have never played myself, but my family do and I enjoy going along and watching the matches as well as seeing my friends and family, or walking the dog too," she explained.
"If you like horses, as I do, it is fantastic to watch, while on the other hand it is tremendously exciting to play too."
Cheshire Polo Ground is a well-known playground for the rich and famous and a variety of celebrities joined Sheryl on the sidelines, including supermodel Jodie Kidd whose boyfriend was playing in one of the teams.
The final was between Henbury and Deva, and was highly competitive with Henbury setting up a three-goal lead in the opening minutes. Undaunted, Deva responded with a brace of goals and the game closed with Henbury winning 5-4 in an exciting finish.
Sheryl added many of those watching had never been to a polo match before and she hopes many more people take a look at polo.
"It has a reputation as a posh sport and I suppose Princes William and Harry do play along with their father for instance," she said.
"However we have people who play and watch from all walks of life, while others may be put off by the sport's reputation.
"I would urge people to look beyond that and see the excitement and spirit among the spectators for a fantastic day out for all the family.
"When the horses are at full gallop it really is exhilarating to see and I hope more people take a chance and judge polo for themselves."
For more information on Cheshire Polo Club visit the website at www.cheshirepoloclub.com or e-mail the club's secretary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
POLO - RUGBY ON HORSEBACK!
* Polo is an exciting, fast-paced game requiring both ball skills and riding skills. It is physically demanding for both horse and rider. It has been described as "rugby on horse-back".
* The polo season is from May to September with tournaments every weekend attracting teams not only from the British Isles, but from as far away as Barbados, the Villages team from America and visits from an Indian team based in Jaipur. Professional players come from Argentina, Australia and New Zealand and stay over for the whole season.
* There are four players on each team. Every player has a personal handicap which starts at Minus 2 for beginners and reaches a maximum of Plus 10 for world-class players.
* Each of the four players in the team has a position - numbers one and two being the forwards and three and four are backs. There is no offside and anyone can score goals or help in defence.
* There are two mounted umpires and a referee on the sidelines in case of disputes. The game begins with a line-up in the centre of the field and one of the umpires throws the ball between the two teams. Ends are changed every time a goal is scored.
* The game is divided into chukkas, each of which lasts a minimum of seven minutes. Players will change onto fresh horses between each chukka.
* Today's polo ponies are 14.2 to 16 hands high and are actually horses. The designation "pony" has its origins in the original Himalayan mountain ponies. Ponies require great speed and stamina, courage and fighting spirit as well as agility and manoeuvrability. Each horse may only be used for a maximum of two chukkas, which cannot be consecutive.
* The players are equipped with a mallet approximately 52 inches long and are most commonly made of bamboo with a wooden head. The white ball is made from pressed plastic or wood. All players must wear a protective helmet, brown boots and knee guards.