The tale of the Hollywood horse trainer

Steve Thompson, founder of the Dubai Polo Academy, tells us how he landed in Dubai and why he’s the most expensive trainer in the world.

David Dunn May 22, 2017

He’s played polo with Price Harry and trained movie stars how to ride horses, and now the British coach and owner of Dubai Polo Academy has written a book about his beloved sport.

Why did you write the book in such a frank and irreverent style?
I wrote how I speak, so it had to go through some serious editing. I talk about how to play polo and look cool; you look cool if you’re doing it properly and if you’re doing it properly you’re more likely to hit the ball. The Polo Association calls me a maverick, but it’s a basic, structured thing I teach: common sense.

You claim to be possibly the most expensive trainer in the world. Tell us why.
It’s a boot camp. You’ll pay me a lot of money and I will deliver but I’m going to save you cash in the long run. I filter at source – I’ll only accept people that want to train for a sport. I’ll make them get there but they have to have resources and time.

You have a reputation for not sparing any blushes during lessons. Is this true?
I’m not for the fainthearted. I will call you stuff. The brain is not permeable if it’s in a fearful state; if I make a person laugh in some way there’s relaxation and I can get results. If I see them not trying, well, I know they’re paying me but they are stealing hours of my life, so either do it or go. I owe it to them to treat them like that.

How does someone from Liverpool end up teaching polo?
I was into horses as a kid. I went to Windsor Great Park and watched a polo match. I could easily have been mucking out stables in Liverpool, but I happened to get into polo. It took me a long time to become a pro. All I’m doing now is delivering the information back.

Were you a natural player?
In the 1980s when everyone was earning a ton I found this club and went for a lesson. I threw a fortune at it, didn’t hit the ball once. I was hopeless, but I could ride. That’s why I turned the whole thing into my vocation, to stop people throwing away a load of money unnecessarily, get disheartened, disillusioned when actually they just need to learn how to do it.

Have you always worked with horses?
No. I was a broker in London. I was on the train one day and decided, ‘It doesn’t matter about the money, I absolutely hate this.’ I resigned and two days later was working as a groom, living in a caravan with no roof, but I was happy.

Where did polo take you before you landed in Dubai?
Because I was good with horses I went to New Zealand where they had a huge breeding cycle. As a result of training them to do athletic stuff you become a very good horseman. Then I went to Australia, Barbados and Mexico. By the time I got back to England I was a polo player.

Who’s the blue and gold macaw?
Rio was a rescue bird I got a few years ago. He lives on the back of the sofa or in a giant aviary. I’ve had 60 birds that people have left behind. I’m a natural animal trainer and train them to be free. Someone once flew from Switzerland for a polo lesson having seen our bird video online. We’ve also got an Italian greyhound and a rescued huskie.

Is polo fun for horse and player?
It’s like surfing – you’re on a furry surfboard. And horses are herd animals, in the wild they run around with their mates. That’s what polo is.

How To Look Cool Whilst Learning Polo is available at Dubai Polo Academy, Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club priced AED 210; dubaipoloacademy.com