What is Polo?

Polo: A Guide to the Game

From its inception as a rough, disorganized, warlike spectacle, polo has evolved into a highly refined, sophisticated sport, combining all the excitement of horse racing, hockey and soccer. Today polo is played on an outdoor grass field 300 yards long by 160 yards wide, an area large enough to accommodate nine football fields. There are lightweight goal posts at each end, eight yards apart.

Each member’s shirt shows his place in the team

Each member’s shirt shows his place in the team

The Players

Players are awarded a handicap (expressed in goals from –2 to 10). The higher the handicap, the better the player. The handicap reflects the value of the player to the team. Administered by the United States Polo Association, The system is based on an evaluation of general mastery of fundamentals, horsemanship, quality of horses as well as strategy sense and conduct on the field.

The handicap of a team is the sum of the handicaps of its players. In handicap matches, the team with the higher rating gives the difference to the other team. For example, a 6-goal team will give 2 goals to a 4-goal team. The word goal has no relation to the amount of goals a player scores – only his ability.

The Teams
Two teams, each consisting of four players:

  • No. 1, the goal-scoring forward, the most offensive player
  • No. 2, the feed
  • No. 3, the pivot position, defending and attacking
  • No. 4, the Back, who defends the goal.

Since play is rapid, players should be able to interchange positions as the situation demands. Number 2 and 3 are usually he highest rated and most experienced players, with the number 3-player being the effective quarterback or field captain.


TEAM “A” Positions VS. TEAM “B” Positions
(1) Stays out front to score goals or help teammate score. (4)
(2) Places himself with range of # 3’s shots so that he can pass
ball to # 1, then follow the ball to cover # 1, or shoot for goal
if ball is set up for him.
(3) Should be the strongest player on the team – one who – can
change places with # 4 and defend goal or go ahead of his #
2 and carry on offense up field.
(4) Chiefly defensive – should have good back shots to head off
plays toward his goal and clear the ball from that area.

WhatisPolo2The Polo Ponies

The term polo “pony” is a purely traditional one; mounts are full-sized horses. A good pony should have docility, speed, and endurance. It is said that the pony is 60 to 75 percent of the player’s skill. Thoroughbreds were originally the only breeds used, but in the contemporary sport mixed breeds are common. Many of the best polo ponies are bred in Argentina and the United States.

Polo training generally begins at age three and lasts from about six months to two years. Ponies reach their peak at around age 6 or 7; but without any accidents, polo ponies may have the ability to play until they are 18 to 20 years of age.

Each player in high goal (top level professional) tournaments uses a fresh pony for each chukker because the game is played at a very fast pace, with the horses galloping much of the time. In club games, ponies may play 2 chukkers in a match but no horse can participate in consecutive chukkers.

The Game

The game consists of six 7-minute chukkers, between or during which players change mounts. At the end of each 7 minute chukker, play continues for an additional 30 seconds or until a stoppage in play, whichever comes first. There is a four minute interval between chukkers and a ten minute halftime. During the five-minute halftime, spectators are invited to come onto the field, stomping down divots.

Play begins with a THROW-IN at the opening of each chukker and after each goal. Teams line up facing the umpire who tosses the ball between them. The object is to score goals by hitting the ball between the goal posts, no matter how high in the air.
The player strikes the ball with long-handled mallet. Players may attack the ball from either side of the horse but must hold the mallet with the right hand. Left handed play was ruled out in 1975 for safety reasons.

There are four types of strokes:

guide1 guide2 guide3 guide4
the stroke that
players use most
often because it
produces the most
powerful drive.
The near side
BACKHAND is another
basic stroke which is also important because players are not permitted to switch mallet hands and mustplay right-handed.
The object of the NEAR SIDE NECK SHOT is to clear the ball for a harder stroke, set up
plays for teammates
and attempt a goal shot from a difficult angle.
The OFF SIDE TAIL SHOT is also used to clear the ball
and requires reaching back
to strok the ball when it is behind the pony. Like the
neck shot, the ball is stroked with more of a flick of the wrist than the use of the entire arm.

The most basic concept in the sport of polo is the line of the ball, a right of way established by the path of a traveling ball. When a player has the line of the ball on his right, he has the right of way. The player who last struck the ball is considered to have right of way, and no other player may cross the line of the ball in front of that player. Riding alongside to block or hook is allowed, as long as the player with right of way is not impeded.

A player can:

  • Hook an opponent’s mallet; a player may hook or block another player’s mallet with his mallet, but no deliberate contact between players is allowed. A player may not purposely touch another player, his tack or pony with his mallet.
  • Push him off the line; hinder another player to hit the ball by riding him off the line of the ball
  • Bump him with his horse; bumping or 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.
  • Steal the ball from him.

Play is continuous and is only stopped for penalties, broken tack (equipment) or injury to horse or player.

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