Horse polo, or simply polo, is one of the oldest team equestrian sports. The sports are played on horseback within two teams. There are types of horse polo; field polo and arena polo. The field polo has four members each, and the arena polo has three members in each team. The polo team members may be a mixture of male and female riders. The horses used in polo are called polo ponies, a little bit shorter than an average horse, intelligent, agile, and with great stamina.
Horse polo is one of the most notable games and was earlier called ‘the king’s game .’Polo was played by elite members of the society and others only spectators. The elite members of the Cavalry usually played the game. The game is now famous worldwide, and more than 100 country members in the Federation of International Polo.
Important Information on Horse Polo
Horse polo is one of the most famous Olympics and FEI games. The polo requires excellent stamina, technique, and endurance to play. The sport requires polo ponies, protective helmets, polo shirts, riding boots, knee protectors, whip, and gloves. The highest body of controlling polio worldwide is the Federation of International Polo. In my article, I shall discuss various salient points of polo sports.
History of Horse Polo
The far east was the cradle of horse polo some 2000 years ago. The game was played by Iranian and Turkic Equestrian Normand in middle Asia. The game was popular during Abbasia, Umaid, Persian, and Mamluk sultan. From there, the game traveled with the marauding Muslims and Chinese into India, which is still a pre-eminent polo country. The game also traveled to the Mughals of Inia, the Tang Dynasty of China, Byzantine emperors, and many more parts of the world.
In Victorian times in the days of the British Raj, the British Army took it up with enthusiasm. The first equine polo club was formed at Silchar, Assam, India, in 1859, and rules were drawn up. The ponies were nippy little Manipuris of about 12 hands. The team was up to nine aside. Gradually the size of the team came down to four it is today, and the size of the pony increased to 13.2 hands in India and 14 hands in England. In 1919, the height limit for horses was abolished.
The Army brought the game in England, and the Hurlingham Club became its Headquarters. The English rules were framed in 1875. Meanwhile, the game spread by way of the Army to other British possessions and their neighbors, notably the United States of America.
Between the two World Wars, the game flourished, but it was not surprising that after WW-II, the International Championship was in Argentina, the most prominent breeder of polo ponies. By then, Argentina had some 3000 active players compared with 1000 Americans and 500 British. In the early fifties, the English game was received by Lord Cowdry on the whose ground at Cowdry Park Prince Charles plays.
Equine Polo: The Polo Ponies
The polo pony should be very agile and fast. He needs powerful quarters, a short, strong back, and a long neck with good shoulders. The game is played at a gallop, and at this speed, the pony must be able to stop within his length, turn on the spot, and gallop off without hesitation.
Indian teams are the best mounted with the stock breed from English, Argentina, and Australian Thoroughbred. A man needs at least three ponies for a match. The horse needs two years of training before it is fit to play.
The Rider of Polo Sport
The horseback rider must be able to move his body free from the waist and control his pony with the reins in his left hand. He must practice his pony on its hock, making it change its leading legs, and riding-off and opposing pony.
A good exercise is to put down a series of marks and ride close to them, image the marks to the balls, and control his pony with one hand and his legs. This helps him to judge the positioning of the pony. Before the rider graduates to making his strokes on a horse, he practices his shots without a ball on a wooden horse in a pit where he can do no damage; failing a pit, he can use a wall or fence.
How To Play Horse Polo? Shots of Horse Polo
The basic shots in field polo are:
- Offside forehander- a straightforward righthand swing.
- The offside backhander- hitting the ball straight back on the right side.
- The nearside forehander- leaning over the horse and hitting the ball forward on the lefthand side of the horse.
- The nearside backhander- hitting it backward on the lefthand side of the horse and two under the horse’s neck strokes from nearside or offside.
- After this, the rider can try the shots mounted, first moving slowly without a ball, at a center, then taking the ball and making half-swing at it, and so on, short sessions so as not to tire his horse.
The Rules of Horse Polo: The Polo Ground
The polo ground is rectangular with a maximum size of 300 by 200 yards. The goals at each end are 8 yards wide and light enough to break it collided. There is a line across 30 yards from each goal and another at 60 yards. In the center is a T facing one long side where at the start of play, the horses line up each side of the down stoke facing the cross stoke. There usually are two mounted umpires on the field and a referee off it.
The rider wears a polo helmet with chinstrap, white breeches, brown boots with no buckles, knee guards, a team shirt with a number on, and gloves for matches and tournaments. The pony must have a polo-type saddle without flap under the billets. The pony must wear protective boots or bandages on all legs and a tail bandage.
Timings in Equestrian Polo
The game is divided into 7.5 minutes period called chukkas. A game consists of 4 to 6 chukkas. There is a 3-minute interval between chukkas and a 5-minute break at halftime. A goal is scored when the ball passes between the posts or an imaginary extension above.
Player and Handicap
There are four players in the game on each side, and each player has an official handicap between 2 (for beginners) and 10. In handicap games, the team’s handicaps are added and the lower score subtracted from, the higher; the weaker side is given this number of goals start, unless the game is not full-length, in which case the handicap is proportionately reduced. The team changes end each time a goal (except penalty) is scored and at halftime if no goal has been scored.
Horse Polo: The Play
The play starts at the timekeeper’s bell. After the sounds of his bell signal the end of the period, play continues until the ball goes out of the field or there is a goal or 30 seconds have elapsed when the bell is rung again.
The umpire blows the ball underarm between the two lines of players at the center T mark to start the game. When the ball goes out the sidelines, it is bowled back by the umpire from where it left the pitch between the teams lined up parallel to the goal line, as in a Rugby lineout. If the attacker sends the ball over the goal line, a defender hits it back with the attacking team positioned behind the 30-yard line. If the defender sends it off, the opponents are awarded a penalty hit from the 60-yard line with the defending team 30 yards away.
Positionally the players numbered 1 and 2 are forward, 3 is a half back, and four is aback.
To avoid collisions, there is a right of way rule. A player following behind the ball on it another player is approaching the same line from the opposite direction he shares right of way as both must keep to the left.
When no players are riding on the line of the ball, but two players are foreclosing, the one at the slightest angle to it has the right of way. It takes good judgment to decide if one can reach the ball ahead of the player who has the right of way without impeding him.
A player may ride off another by riding in the same direction and pushing him sideways with pony and shoulder so long as he keeps his elbow in. It is allowable to hook another’s stick to prevent him from playing the ball if he is in the act of striking it and one is directly behind or on the same side as the ball, and the stick is below the shoulder.
Penalties in Horse Polo
There are various penalties, varying from the extreme of beginning send-off or having a goal awarded to the other side to free hits from various positions.
Penalties are awarded for infringement of rules, dangerous riding, misuse of the stick, and rough handling. At the end of the final period, play stops at the bell.
A pony is good for only two consecutive chukkas, so a player must have at least three ponies, allowing one in reserve in case of lameness or injury.
15 Other Polo Related Sports
1. Horse Ball is a similar game where a ball is handed over to other riders and scored by passing through the goal post.
2. Cowboy Polo– a polo played with the western saddle in Texas and California.
3. Water Polo. A game in the swimming pool with handball.
4. Bicycle Polo. The games were played over the bicycle instead of horse or pony.
5. Arena Polo– the game is played by three members team in a smaller field.
6. Beach Polo. Horse polo played on a sandy beach.
7. Elephant Polo- polo played on the elephant instead of horseback.
8. Camel Polo– The game is polo but uses a camel instead of a pony.
9. Auto Polo– polo played on an automobile instead of a horse.
10. Tuk Tuk Polo– the players are on a specialized vehicle called Tuk-tuk.
11. Snow Polo– the game played over frozen ground or frozen lake.
12. Segway Polo– the players ride on a Segway instead of a pony.
13. Pato – a game combination of horse polo and basketball.
14. Buzkash– the game played in central Asia where a goat carcass is used as a ball and through to the goal post.
15. Yak Polo– the games played over the back of a yak instead of a pony.
Concluding Remarks on Horse Polo
Polo is one of the most inspiring and famous equestrian sports. The games require excellent stamina and endurance. The game was earlier reserved for the elite and later became popular with soldiers and Cavalry units. Sports give excellent physical fitness, mental soundness, and enjoyment. The article mainly discussed the basics of horse polo and its different aspects.