German in Yorkshire leading polo charge

CLAUDIA WEILER looks as though she might have grown up in the English countryside, with ponies and the sport of polo all part of the family's way of life.

Tall, blonde and dressed in jeans and a neat shirt, she is very much at home in the stable yard at Townend Farm in East Yorkshire.

But home for Claudia was in the city of Halle, near Leipzig, in what was East Germany.

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She was 12 when the Berlin Wall came down, making way for the reunification of Germany.

More freedom brought with it the chance to travel and Claudia's first taste of England came when she was 16 and her parents sent her on a summer course to a boarding school in Kent.

After that, she decided to take a year out of school to work as an au pair in this country.

Life here obviously appealed, as instead of returning home to school, Claudia took her A levels while working as an au pair in Norfolk.

She then went on to study at the University of East Anglia.

The polo connection came about when she met Hedley Aylott at a fund-raising event at the Norwich Cathedral School where she was teaching German.

He had just caught the polo bug and when they got together he encouraged Claudia to start playing, too.

"Polo has taken over my life, I now live and breathe it," says Claudia happily.

After several years of travelling between Norfolk and East Yorkshire at weekends, where Hedley had bought Townend Farm near Market Weighton, Claudia gave up her job to help him launch the White Rose Polo Club.

That was three years ago and it is now a flourishing club with over 60 members.

"We started out with six horses and now we have over 40 and we are retraining some ex-racehorses to become polo ponies," said Claudia, who has a polo handicap of minus two.

She had done some riding before meeting Hedley and has now been playing polo for four seasons.

"It's a tough game and very competitive and quite a lot of women play. There is a cracking UK ladies team. It's good fun and there's always something new to learn. I like it because it's a good team sport."

The past few years have seen a growing interest in polo and its image is becoming a little less elitist. "We are trying to encourage people – anybody can play – and make it more accessible," says Claudia.

The club's coach, New Zealander Tony Wesche, is happy to teach anybody, including children from the age of six, as well as teams from York and Leeds universities, Pony Club members and absolute beginners.

The club has also become a popular venue for hen and stag party weekends, team building polo days and birthday parties plus polo taster sessions. "It doesn't matter if you have never ridden, just come along and have a go," says Claudia.

The club is involved in two major tournaments every year, the Yorkshire Open and the Castle Howard Cup. At the recent Yorkshire Open, 14 polo teams competed, including players from other Yorkshire clubs (Toulston and Beverley) and clubs in Rutland, Leadenham and Binfield Heath.

Members can also continue playing polo in the winter, when chukkas are played in bracing conditions on the south beach at Bridlington.

Hedley Aylott runs a successful on-line marketing company, Summit Media. Once bitten by the polo bug, after a taster day at the Ascot Park club, he set about starting the White Rose Club to cater for a growing interest in the sport. "We are a members' club and everyone puts a lot of hard work into making things happen," says Claudia.

There are two full-size polo grounds, two stick and ball pitches and an all-weather arena. The club also leases the grounds at nearby Houghton Hall where there is additional stabling and riding facilities.

Women players will be in the spotlight today when the White Rose club stages the Stimpson Ladies' Tournament.

Spectators are welcome to go along, take a picnic and get a close up view of the action. Admission is 10 per car. More information from Claudia Weiler on 01430 875767 or go to www.whiterosepolo.co.uk