POLO BASICS

HISTORY OF POLO

The exact origin of polo, the oldest team sport, is unknown. Polo was probably first played by nomadic warriors over two thousand years ago. The first recorded game took place in 600BC when the Turkomans beat the Persians in a public match.

Used for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan in the Middle Ages.

In the 16th century AD a polo ground was built in the ancient city of Ispahan, then the capital of Persia, by Shah Abbas the Great. Today, still used as a public park, it is the same size as a modern polo field with its original stone goal posts in place.

The British army and British tea planters introduced the West to the galloping game. Captain Robert Stewart and Major General Joe Sherer saw a polo match while stationed in the Indian state of Manipur on the Burmese border, and in 1859 founded the first polo club in Silchar, west of Manipur. In 1862 Calcutta Polo Club, the oldest still existing polo club was founded.
Today, the oldest polo clubs outside India are the Malta Polo Club (founded in 1868 by British officers returning  from India), the All Ireland Polo Club in Dublin (1872) and the Monmouthshire Polo Club in Wales (1872). 

In 1869 Edward "Chicken" Hartopp of the 10th Hussars organized the first polo game in England - known then as "hockey on horseback"- on Hounslow Heath against the 9th Lancers. In 1875 Thomas St. Quintin of the 10th Hussars introduced the polo to Australia and two of his brothers stayed on there as ranchers and helped the game to develop. In the same year the first official match in Argentina took place, where the game had been taken by English and Irish engineers and ranchers. From then on, the game spread powerfully across the country and Argentina is today the country where the highest level of polo in the world is played. James Gordon Bennett, an American publisher who had seen the game while on a visit to England, is credited for introducing the sport of polo to North America. He organized a polo match at Dickel's Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City in May 1876. The oldest polo club in Canada is the Calgary Polo Club which was founded in 1883.

Today, upwards of 77 countries play polo. It was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1939 and has now been recognized again by the International Olympic Committee.

THE GAME

The object of the game is to score as many goals as possible. The players move the polo ball down-field, hitting the ball through the goal posts for a score. The game then changes direction after each goal in order to compensate for field and wind conditions. A regulation size polo field is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide, the largest field in organized sport, nine times the size of a football field and thirty times the size of a hockey rink.

A polo match is divided into timed periods called chukkers. Each chukker is seven minutes long. Players must change horses after each chukker due to the extreme demands placed on the polo pony. A horse covers 2½-3 miles in a fast chukker.  Ponies play for a maximum of two chukkers per match.

A polo team is made up of four players. Each player has a handicap of between -2 to 10 goals and the handicaps of all players are added up to the team handicap. The higher a player's handicap the better a player he/she is. Each player assumes a specific position, either offensive or defensive. However, given the large size of the playing field, the momentum of the galloping horses and the ball’s unexpected changes of direction, the game is very fluid.

Play begins with a throw-in of the ball by the umpire at the opening of each chukker and after each goal.

With thousand-pound animals running at a fast speed there is a great necessity for a right-of-way rule. The central concept in polo is “the line of the ball”, a right of way established by the travelling ball. The line of the ball changes each time the ball changes direction. The player who hit the ball generally has the right of way, and other players cannot cross the line of the ball in front of that player. To gain possession of the ball a player can:

  • hook an opponent,
  • ride him or her off, or
  • steal the ball.

Hooking is a common defensive play where a player blocks an opponent’s swing with his or her mallet. To hook a player has to be on the side where the swing is being made.

In a ride-off a player makes contact with an opponent and pushes him or her off the line of the ball. Riding off is allowed as long as the angle of attack is less than 45 degrees, and any contact must be made between the pony's hip and shoulder.

If a player commits a foul the opposing team is awarded a penalty shot on goal. Depending on the severity of the foul and where the foul was committed on the field penalty shots are taken sixty, forty or thirty yards from the goal or from the spot where the foul was committed.