About Our Sport
The oldest recorded team sport in known history, the first polo matches were played in Persia over 2500 years ago. Initially created by competing tribes of Central Asia, polo was taken up as a training method for the King’s elite cavalry. These matches could resemble a battle with up to 100 men to a side. The modern age of polo began in the early 19th Century when British soldiers discovered the game in India and took up the sport, prompting its spread to the West.
To get the most out of polo, it helps to understand a little about our sport. Below are a few basics of our game to help you enjoy the match!
Polo is played on a 10-acre grass field, 300 yards in length by 160 yards, which is the approximate area of 9 football fields. Goal posts are set eight yards apart on either end of the field. The object of the game is to move the ball downfield, hitting the ball through the goal for a score. Teams change direction after each goal. The team with the most scores at the end of the match is deemed the winner.
Two teams, made up of four players each, are designated by shirt color. The players wear high boots, knee guards, and a helmet. The ponies wear protective bandages and boots to shield them from the ball or the mallet. By tradition, players wear white pants in tournaments. The mallet, made of a bamboo shaft with a hardwood head, is the instrument used to hit the polo ball.
The polo ball was formerly made of wood but is now plastic. In fact, the English word “polo” is derived from the Tibetan word “pulu,” meaning ball.
The surface of a polo field requires careful and constant grounds maintenance to keep the field in good playing condition. During halftime of a match, spectators are invited to go onto the field to participate in a polo tradition called “divot stomping,” which was developed to not only help replace the mounds of earth (divots) that are torn up by the horses’ hooves, but to also afford spectators the opportunity to walk about and socialize.
THROW-IN & CHUKKERS
There are six periods, or “chukkers,” in a match. Each chukker is seven minutes long. Play begins with a throw-in of the ball by the umpire at the opening of each chukker and after each goal. Only penalties or injuries may stop play as there are no timeouts or substitutions allowed (except for tack repair).
The four basic shots in polo are distinguished by the side of the pony on which strokes or shots are made. That is “near-side” (left side of the mount) and “off-side” (right side of the mount). This creates the near-side forward, and back shot, and the off-side forward, and back shot. Shots can also be made under the pony’s neck, across his tail, or the difficult under-the-belly shot, all variations of the basic shots.
A team is made up of four players, each wearing a jersey numbered 1 through 4, which corresponds to their assigned position. No. 1 is the most offensive player, concentrating on opportunities for scoring. No. 4 is the defensive player, primarily responsible for defending his team’s goal. Usually, the most experienced and highest-rated players are at positions 2 and 3, with the pivotal player being No. 3, who must serve as an effective field captain, or quarterback. The No. 3 coordinates the offense, and passes the ball upfield to his teammates as they press toward the opposition’s goal. Each player is also assigned an opponent to cover on defense and must be prepared to shift offensive and defensive modes and to make any play that will benefit his team.
Similar to soccer, the objective of polo is to drive the ball downfield and between the opponent’s goalposts.
Although there are many rules to the game of polo, the primary concept to which all rules are dedicated is safety – for the player and his mount.
The right-of-way rule is defined by a player’s position relative to the direction of travel of the ball when hit. Once hit, an imaginary line is drawn from the player to the ball, and extended ahead of the ball in the direction it is traveling. This imaginary line can not be crossed by other players. In general, play will flow backward and forward, parallel to the imaginary line extended ahead of, and behind, the ball. This rule creates safe traffic patterns that enable the participants to play at top speeds and to avoid dangerous collisions.
The line of the ball may not be crossed except under special circumstances and only in such a way as to legitimately gain control of the ball. When a player has the line of the ball on his right, he has the right-of-way. This can only be taken away by “riding off” and moving the player off the line of the ball by making shoulder-to-shoulder contact.
Strategy and anticipation are two of the most important elements in polo and usually come with experience. For the spectator, keep an eye on the horses. The speed and athletic abilities of both the horse and rider are spectacular. All of these elements combined make the fast-paced action of polo one of the most exciting and demanding sports in the world.
Each player is assigned an individual handicap on the ascending basis of C, B, A (-2 thru 0) and 1 thru 10. This Handicap reflects the player’s ability and his value to the team. The higher the handicap, the better the player (which is opposite to golf). There are only a few 10-goal players in the world.
- -2 to -1: Beginner
- 0: Average
- 1 to 3: Good
- 4 to 8: Very Good
- 9 to 10: Elite
The team handicap is the combined handicaps of the four players. The team with the lesser handicap is granted the difference in goals (or points) prior to the start of the match. For that reason, a match may well have a “score” prior to the start of the game based on team handicaps.
Player handicaps are evaluated and revised annually by the United States Polo Association. Handicapping is a subjective evaluation of the individual’s horsepower, game sense, hitting ability, and overall value to a team.
Horses used to play polo are commonly referred to as polo “ponies.” The polo ponies are central to the success of any team. They are primarily Thoroughbreds, often with race track experience, and considered the most athletic of equine performers because of the requirements to sprint, stop, turn and accelerate to open speed for seven minutes in duration. Although they are called “ponies,” they are actually small horses (average height 15 to 16 hands high). Players must change mounts after each chukker due to extreme demands placed on the ponies. Therefore, a team usually has a minimum of 24 horses available during the match.
Most horses can be trained to play polo, however training horses to learn the game should only be taken on by experienced polo players. Beginner and intermediate players are much better off buying an already trained polo pony.
The polo ball was formerly made of wood but is now made of plastic. It is about 3 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter and 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 ounces in weight. In fact, the English word “polo” is derived from the Tibetan word “pulu,” meaning ball.
The surface of a polo field requires careful and constant grounds maintenance to keep the field in good playing condition. During halftime of a match, spectators are invited to walk out onto the field to participate in a polo tradition called “divot stomping,” which has developed to not only help replace the mounds of earth (divots) that are torn up by the horse’s hooves, but to also afford spectators the opportunity to walk about and socialize while the players take a mid-game break.
There are six periods or “chukkers” in a match. Each chukker is seven and a half minutes long. Play begins with a throw-in of the ball by the umpire at the opening of each chukker, and after each goal. Only penalties or injuries may stop play, as there are no time-outs or substitutions allowed (except for tack repair).
The four basic shots in polo are distinguished by the side of the pony on which the stroke or shot is made – “near-side” or left side of the mount and “off-side” or right side of the mount. This then creates the near-side forward and back shot, and the off-side forward and back shot. Shots can also be made under the pony’s neck, across the tail, or the difficult under-the-belly shot, all variations of the basic shots.
A team is made up of four players, each wearing a jersey with numbers 1 through 4, which corresponds to their assigned position. Player Number 1 is the most offensive player, concentrating on opportunities for scoring. Player Number 4 is the defensive player, primarily responsible for defending his or her team’s goal. Usually, the most experienced and highest-rated players take positions 2 and 3, with the pivotal player being Player Number 3, who must serve as an effective field captain, or quarterback. Player Number 3 coordinates the offense, passing the ball upfield to his or her teammates as they press towards their opponent’s goal. Each player is also assigned an opponent to defend, and must be prepared to shift offensive and defensive modes to make the play that will most benefit his or her team
An activity that incorporates spectators into the game. During halftime, spectators are invited to go onto the playing field to replace pieces of turf that have been dug up by the horses
For the same reason that knee pads are essential to a polo player’s safety during a match, top quality riding boots are a must. Ideally, these made-for-polo boots should be thick, high quality leather, with a good sole and ankle support
Polo was once a form of training for the cavalry – a mentality that is easy to understand when you see how the today’s current players dress for a match. Most important in this regard is the helmet, which insures the player against any glancing blows from the polo ball, stray mallets and any other potential hazards of the sport. When choosing a helmet, it is always best to choose a product which has been approved by NOSCAE (the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment).
Different playing conditions can require different polo balls, so it is best to consider which suits your particular circumstances In situations where weather conditions limit visibility, red balls can ensure a match is able to continue safely. The standard polo ball that is used for outdoor polo is made of either bamboo or willow root, measures about 3 1/4 inches in diameter, and weighs about four ounces.
Saddles are English-Style with deep seats, like jumping saddles.
The best modern polo wear is designed not just for protection, but also comfort and challenging conditions. Good quality gloves can offer extra grip in slippery conditions and low temperatures, meaning a good pair can be the difference between success and failure in the key moments of a match.
Bags help carry all of the equipment that is necessary for polo.
At the business end of your polo game, the polo mallet needs the right specification for you. The weight of the mallet head and the length of the stick are both customizable to ensure this instrument suits the height of the pony as well as the playing style of the athlete. The mallet has a rubber-wrapped grip with a webbed thong for wrapping around the hand, and a flexible bamboo-cane shaft with a bamboo head 9 1/2 inches in The whole mallet weighs about 7 ounces and varies from 48 to 53 inches in length, depending on the size of the pony and the length of the player’s arm. The ball is struck with the side of the mallet, not the end.
Knee pads are also an essential part of the gear of a polo player because the player’s legs are very exposed to the rigors of the match while the athlete is in the saddle. Different players may favor different variations of knee pads, including either two or three straps (the third helping to further secure the pad if necessary).
Want to know more?
Download Our Spectator’s Guide.
The Public is Always Welcome!
Polo is a community sport like no other. Sunday Polo matches are open to the public every Sunday at 1pm beginning December 19th, 2021 through April 24th, 2022. Gates open at 10am. Fieldside general admission tailgating, reserved tailgating, reserved midfield premium seating or VIP midfield boxes are available for Sunday Polo. Children 12 and under are free, (general admission tailgating). Join thousands of fans for exciting polo action, opening parade, live national anthem, theme weeks, half-time entertainment, food, drinks and divot-stomping. Dress comfortably and for the weather. Remember, you will be walking on grass. Well socialized dogs are welcome on a leash.