A festival celebrating the sport of polo was officially launched at the historic Langley Abbey Estate, near Loddon, yesterday.

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The 2012 Norfolk Polo Festival is to return on July 28 and 29 and there will be even more to see this year with a grandstand and shopping arcade alongside the fast-paced horseback action.

The two-day family-based festival, backed by the EDP, is organised by Norfolk Polo Club founder Chris Townsend, who hopes to build on the success of last year’s inaugural event.

He said: “Last year was a great success and everybody seemed to have a wonderful time, both those who came to watch and those playing.”

Mr Townsend said many people had misconceptions about the sport – which he hoped the festival would help to change.

He said: “People have polo completely wrong. They think it is exclusive and you have to have lots of money, have ridden a horse before and know the royals, but there is nothing further from the truth. It is one of the most inclusive sports.”

Riders are handicapped and people of all ages and both sexes are able to go head to head in games.

The two-day event sees four matches a day with eight teams from across the country fighting for glory, as well as two exhibition matches.

One features players from the club battling for the Townsend trophy and the other features international players competing for the Bentley Norwich Bowl on behalf of sponsors Coutts & Co and media partners the EDP.

Mr Townsend said: “We are very pleased to have Coutts sponsoring it again and we thank them and hope to have a good festival for them and hope they enjoy it as much as last year. We are also grateful to the EDP as our media partners.”

Mark Noble, client partner at Coutts & Co, said the company was happy to extend its support of the festival. He said: “I think last year went very well. It was an event that we were delighted to support and really put polo on the map locally.

“It attracted a lot of first-time spectators to the sport and the feedback from clients and spectators was that they thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Mr Noble said he thought it was a great family day out and encouraged more people to come along this year.

He said: “Come along and bring a picnic, it is a great day just sitting there and watching something you don’t normally see locally.”

Gary Attfield, relations manager for Archant Norfolk, which publishes the EDP, said: “I think it is important as local media to get behind events like the polo festival. Last year was a great occasion and we look forward to two days of fantastic polo.”

Tickets will be £10 a day and to register an interest visit www.norfolkpolo.co.uk

Helping to launch this year’s festival were two new players to the game.

Paul Bussey, whose family own the Busseys garages and vehicle leasing firm, and Jonathan Butcher, of the Butcher Group Ltd, which is well known for its Hovells retail brand, both started playing the game in the last 10 months, but are now regulars at the Norfolk Polo Club and are hoping to feature in the Townsend trophy final at the festival.

Mr Bussey said he was inspired to give the game a try after attending the inaugural festival.

He said: “After last year’s festival I had to have a go. My wife and I love horses and it seemed a good way of doing something together.

“My two girls, aged 11 and 8, absolutely love it too, and have picked it up really quickly.”

He added: “It is the most compulsive, addictive, fantastic sport.”

Mr Butcher said he started playing polo in May when club founder Chris Townsend convinced him to give it a try.

He said: “Originally I did not like the idea of riding, but after giving a go found it addictive and one thing led to another.”

Mr Butcher learnt to ride a horse through the club and can now be seen playing twice a week.

He said: “It is a good workout, better than going to the gym as you enjoy the fresh air and far more energetic than lots of sports.

“It is also a game that all age groups and both boys and girls can play against each other.”

The ability of the sport to be played at all ages is demonstrated by pupils at Langley School regularly playing against members of the polo club.

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