Polo 101

Polo is a sport like no other, while there is a strong team culture, the relationship between horse and rider cannot be overlooked or under-valued.

The Basics of Polo.

You don’t need to be a polo pro to attend our Sunday matches! Polo is an intense, action-packed sport that moves very quickly. But, with a little bit of knowledge about the game, you’ll be following along in no time!

Basic Rules

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 players and polo ponies safe. Teams line up, with players in numerical order 1 – 4, face to face, opposite each other. The umpire 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.) Teams change ends after each goal is scored to account for any wind advantage which may exist.

Polo Equipment

Polo players and their ponies rely on specialized equipment, for both horse and rider, that allow them to move quickly and safely around the polo field.

Polo Ponies

Polo ponies are full-size horses, ranging in size from 14.2 to 15.3 hands high at the withers, or pony’s shoulders, (one hand equals four inches) and weigh between 900 and 1100 lbs. Many polo ponies are thoroughbreds or thoroughbred crosses or are from Argentina and a breed known as Creolla. They play for a maximum of two non-consecutive chukkers per match.

Time Periods

A polo match is approximately one and one-half hours long and is divided into 7 ½ minute time periods called chukkers. There are six chukkers in a game. Sometimes the games are shortened to four chukkers for exhibition matches or to accommodate horse and rider needs. Breaks between chukkers are three minutes long, with a regulation 10 minute halftime. Often the half time is longer for demonstrations or to allow for more fun during the divot stomp.

Polo Teams and Players

Four players are on each team. Each player wears a numbered jersey, one through four, which indicates their position and responsibilities on the field. All players are assigned a handicap. Handicaps go from-2 to 10 goals and are determined by club delegates and the United States Polo Association (USPA). In tournaments, there is a handicap level and the sum of all handicaps of the players must be equal to or lower than the highest level of the range for the tournament. For example, in an 8 goal tournament, the sum of all the players’ handicaps must be 8 or lower (e.g. one 0 goal player, two 2 goal players and a 4 goal player = 8). If a team enters the tournament and only has a team with a total handicap level of 7, that team starts with 1 point on t the score board to begin the game. Thus, when reefing to a player’s handicap, one says “I am 2 goals” and it does not mean they make 2 goals every game. There are only ten or so 10 goalers in the world. Players must hit right-handed for safety reasons. The last left-handed player was grand-fathered in to play in the USPA in 1979.

Polo Field

Polo fields are 300 yards long and 150 yards wide. An eight-yard wide goal, marked by ten-foot high goal posts, is centered on each end of the field.

Polo Defensive Techniques

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. The hook must be safely performed, away from the horses’ legs.

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.