A Balance of Strength & Finesse
One of the world’s oldest games is also one of its fastest – balls travel up to 110 miles per hour – and most dangerous. Man and horse work in partnership to get a ball through a goal, while using every possible strategy to prevent the opposing side from doing so. What happens on that quest is both brutish and beautiful.
A polo game is played between two teams with four players on each side. The members are designated as “attack” or “defense” and each has the job of furthering their own goal tally while preventing the other side from scoring. Most of the rules were established to keep the riders and horses, often called ponies, safe. Teams line up, in numerical order, opposite each other. Then an official begins the match with a throw-in, the ball is rolled between the teams, and play begins. (Throw-ins occur to begin a match and to resume play after a time out.)
The line of the ball is a “right of way” established by the path of a traveling ball. Right of way occurs when a player has the line of the ball on his right; the player who struck the ball last has right of way. Riding alongside a player with the right of way is permitted, as long as his way is not hindered. The umpire primarily looks out for right of way and the line of the ball.
Teams change ends after each goal is scored to account for any wind advantage which may exist.
Four players are on each team. Each player wears a numbered jersey, one through four, which indicates their position and responsibilities on the field.
•One – Mainly concerned with goal scoring – often played by the lowest handicapped player on the team.
•Two – Scorer, but greater defensive responsibilities then Number One.
•Three – Adept at scoring, playing defense and determining the strategy. Generally the team’s best player and captain.
•Four – Mainly a defensive player.
A polo match is approximately one and one-half hours long and is divided into seven-minute time periods called chukkers. There are six chukkers in a high-goal match. Breaks between chukkers are three minutes long, with a 15-minute halftime.
Players score by driving the ball into the opposing team’s goal.
The mounts are full-size horses, ranging in size from 14.2 to 16 hands high at the withers, or horse’s shoulders, (one hand equals four inches) and weigh between 900 and 1100 lbs. Many polo ponies are thoroughbreds or thoroughbred crosses. They play for a maximum of two non-consecutive chukkers per match.
All players are assigned a handicap. Handicaps go from minus two to ten goals and are determined by competition committees in the countries where the players compete. There are only 12 or so ten goalers in the world.
Players must hit right-handed for safety reasons.
Two mounted umpires control the game; a midfield referee steps in when the umpires disagree. A flagman is positioned behind each goal; he indicates when a goal is scored.
The umpires generally call fouls for dangerous riding or use of the mallet. Penalty for a foul can be anything from a free hit to a free goal for the opposing team.
Polo fields are 300 yards long and 160 yards wide. An eight-yard wide goal, marked by ten-foot high goal posts, is centered on each end of the field.
A player may use his mallet to block or interfere with an opponent’s swing by hooking the other player’s mallet. This is only allowed when a player is on the side where the swing is occurring or directly in front of or behind their opponent.
A bump, or ride-off, is used to break an opponent’s concentration, move him off the line of the ball or ruin his shot. When one player rides his pony alongside and physically connects with his opponent to lead him away from the ball, it is called a ride-off. A ride-off is permissible only at a 30-degree angle and at the horse’s shoulder.