Interview with Berkshire polo prodigy Max Charlton
PUBLISHED: 11:53 02 June 2016 | UPDATED: 11:53 02 June 2016
Berkshire is home to one of the most exciting young talents in the sport, so Eleanor Kelly went to wheel him in for a chat
Max Charlton may be just 25-years-old but is one of just three British players playing off a handicap of seven goal and is a well-established member of the England squad. Recently appointed as Land Rover’s first polo player ambassador, he is widely regarded as one of the most promising home-grown talents that the sport has seen for some time and it all started in Berkshire.
On a rare day off from playing or training, Max had invited us to join him for a different sort of horse power. He was taking part in a Land Rover off-roading experience at Eastnor Castle. Whilst the extreme terrain of Land Rover’s off-roading facilities is a far cry from the enchanting grounds of Guards Polo Club in Windsor, where Max spends most of his time playing polo, it is clear he is just as at ease behind the steering wheel as he is holding the reins.
“I have always been a bit of car fanatic,” admits Max, whilst navigating the Range Rover Sport through some deep mud-filled ruts. “I suppose it’s a bit like polo, in that I love the feeling – and the challenge – of controlling something so powerful, whether it’s a horse or a vehicle.”
Born and raised in Windsor, Max was first introduced to polo at the age of 12. “An architect doing up my parent’s house at the time also happened to own a local low-goal polo club,” Max explains. “One day he said ‘come and have a lesson’. The day I was introduced to it, that was it. All I could think about was polo.
“I was already riding and doing Pony Club but knew nothing about polo. I was hooked from the outset.” He says. “It’s got everything, it’s got the speed, the excitement and the lifestyle is cool!”
Growing up in Berkshire could not have been a more suitable location for a polo-mad teenager. “I was lucky, it is a very polo based area,” says Max.
Max reveals that polo for him was a saviour during his school years: “I was really dyslexic and struggling at school. So when I discovered this love for polo, my parents were happy for me to be home tutored. I would spend the morning studying and the afternoons playing polo.”
Parental encouragement played a large part in nurturing this talent: “Luckily my parents were very supportive. At the beginning they helped me to buy my first horse. She was just a good all-rounder called Lucy, nothing too special, but she got me started.”
Max got his first big break when he was offered a job with a successful 15 goal team at just 17-years-old. “I’d had a bit of an average run and then someone got injured and I filled in. As a team, we went on to win two tournaments.” From there Max went up to a two goal handicap and since then his handicap has gone up every year.
The English summer season runs from May to September, but in the winter months he travels all over the world to earn his living by playing for various teams. New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Barbados are among Max’s favourite places to play.
“It’s not always as glamorous as people think, it can be very hard being away from home for a long period of time. I love coming home and one thing I always really look forward to is roast dinner. I’m most happy being here.”
There is a strong polo community in Berkshire and Max admits that whilst his lifestyle does not offer much opportunity for an active social life, he enjoys going out for dinner in the area. “I love Piccolino in Virginia Water. It’s got an amazing bar and is busy every night.”
The polo lifestyle can tempt players into the VIP party scene but Max is more focused on being the greatest player he can be, and invests both his time and finances in this. “The money is good at top level but I put most of it back into buying horses. You cannot remain at top level without being mounted on the best horses. The trick in polo is to have something going on the side.”
To balance the books and give him a fall-back, Max invested in property. “I bought a house in Ascot, which I rent out. I had to work so hard to get that house – I feel that is one of my biggest achievements so far.”
Max insists that polo is not only available to the super rich, and provides some evidence: “It is far more accessible than people think,” he says. “A lesson costs about £75, which is no different to a golf lesson. You don’t need a horse, the clubs provide them. Then if you really enjoy it, you can join a low goal club and play in a team. There is a strong social side, too. You play some polo and then have a beer with the group after. Lots of the clubs in this area do girls’ nights too, and it’s about £50 for instructional chukkas. Anyone can give it a go and Berkshire is one of the best places to do it.”
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