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Flying the flag in elephant polo world championships

Members of the British elephant polo team, from left, sponsor Simon Pickering of Wish Communications, Col (Ret) Chris Darby (Gurkhas), Maj (Ret) Toby Jackman (Gurkhas), Cpt (Ret) Shindi Poonia (Parachute Regiment) and Col (Ret) Johnny Fenn (Gurkhas)

Members of the British elephant polo team, from left, sponsor Simon Pickering of Wish Communications, Col (Ret) Chris Darby (Gurkhas), Maj (Ret) Toby Jackman (Gurkhas), Cpt (Ret) Shindi Poonia (Parachute Regiment) and Col (Ret) Johnny Fenn (Gurkhas)

A former Gurkha who went to school in Stamford is leading the British team in one of the strangest sports in the world - elephant polo.

Johnny Fenn is the captain of the Rusty Kukris, a team made up of retired Army officers who compete each year in the World Elephant Polo Championships in Nepal.

Former Stamford School pupil Johnny, 45, was asked to lead the team after leaving the Gurkhas in 2010.

Since then he has competed in three world championships against teams from Nepal, Scotland, India, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Australia, America and Switzerland.

Johnny, who grew up in Nassington and played for Stamford Rugby Club in his youth, said: “We came last the first two years. But this year we came fourth out of eight. It has been a bit of a learning curve.”

Elephant polo was set up in 1982 by former Olympic tobogganer James Manclark and Tim Edwards, owner of Tiger Tops lodge in Nepal.

Tiger Tops is now the headquarters of the World Elephant Polo Association and the annual world championships are held just outside Meghauly village, on the edge of the Chitwan National Park.

The game is based on the standard version of polo, but with a few key differences - the main one being the size of the animals involved.

Johnny said: “It’s quite tactically tricky, surprisingly. You have four elephants, one large, two medium and one small. Do you have the slowest one in goal, somewhere where it doesn’t get in the way? Or do you put the smaller one there so he can fend off attackers very easily?

“You are a long way off the ground. The ball is a normal polo ball, but the stick is 100in long. It’s a lot of hard work with your right arm.

“There are a few rules. If your saddle starts to slip then the game has to be stopped immediately. You are only allowed three elephants in one half at a time. “

When he is not competing, Johnny works as a photographer in Wiltshire. He and his wife Blou have two daughters, Lucy, 18, and Georgie, 17.

Johnny visits his parents regularly in Oundle.

He and his team will compete in their fourth World Elephant Polo Championships in November. And while they are keen to do well, they are sure to enjoy the event regardless of the final result.

Johnny said: “It’s a very social weekend. The place we play at has a river party and a cricket game. It’s a lot of fun. All the teams mix together throughout.”

And while the results in previous years have not been the best, the team has consistently performed well in the most important category - best dressed.

 

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