Polo – A team sport played on horseback.

Picture Credit: enigmapolo.com 

Polo is probably the oldest recorded team sport in known history, with the first matches being played in Persia over 2500 years ago.  It is gaining increasing popularity as a premier spectator sport and can be an easy game for the first-time spectator to enjoy. Imagine the excitement of seeing players on thoroughbred horses bumping and jostling with each other as hockey on horseback, racing at top speeds down the field while striking a small ball with the precision of an experienced golfer. Polo is played on a 10 acre grass field, 300 yards in length by 160 yards, which is the approximate area of ten 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 down-field, hitting the ball through the goal for a score. The team with the most scores at the end of the match is deemed the winner. Teams then change direction after each goal. Two teams, made up of four players each, are designated by shirt color. The players wear high boots, knee guards, and a helmet of their own selection. By tradition, players wear white pants in tournaments.

Picture credit: mooseintl.org

The first official written rules (on which the present international rules are based) were not created until the 19th Century by Irishman Captain John Watson of the British Cavalry 13th Hussars.  These were revised in 1874 to create the Hurlingham Rules, restricting the number of players on each team. The mallet made of a bamboo shaft with a hardwood head is the instrument used to hit the polo ball, formerly wood, now plastic, about 3 to 3 ½ inches in diameter and 3 ½ to 4 ½ ounces in weight. In fact, the English word POLO is derived from the Tibetan word, “pulu” meaning ball. There are six periods or “chukkers” in a match, each 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 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 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. The full game rules allow for 8 chukkas, but often in club matches 4 or 6 chukkas are played. Each chukka is timed to last 7 mins, then a bell is rung, but the game goes on until the ball goes out of play, or for another 30 secs when the bell is rung again, the chukka ends where the ball is. The clock is stopped between the umpire’s whistle to stop the play and the whistle to start play . There are intervals of 3 mins between chukkas and 5 mins at half time. Ends are changed at every goal scored – this has been found fairest when there is a wind. All horse breeds are allowed to play Polo, but Polo Ponies, must be fast, energetic and docile. Any horse with violent behavior is excluded. Players often change horses during a game. A player following the ball on its exact line has the ‘Right of Way’ over all other players. Any other player who crosses the player on the right of way close enough to be dangerous commits a foul. Penalties vary according to the degree of danger and closeness of the cross. No player may hook an opponent’s stick unless he is on the same side of the opponent’s pony as the ball. Dangerous play or rough handling is not allowed – a player may ride an opponent off, but must not charge in at an angle.

Some Interesting Facts: 

The first polo club was established in the town of Silchar in Assam, India, in 1834.There is also a polo ground in chooto jalanga (irongmara/dwarbond).

The origins of the game in Manipur are traced to early precursors of Sagol Kangjei. This was one of three forms of hockey in Manipur, the other ones being field hockey (called Khong Kangjei) and wrestling-hockey (called Mukna Kangjei).

Meanwhile, British settlers in the Argentine pampas started practising it during their free time. Among them, David Shennan is credited with having organised the first formal polo game of the country in 1875, at Estancia El Negrete, located in the province of Buenos Aires.

James Gordon Bennett, Jr. on 6 May 1876 organized what was billed as the first polo match in the United States at Dickel’s Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. The historical record states that James Gordon Bennett established the Westchester Polo Club on 6 May 1876 and on 13 May 1876 the Jerome Park Racetrack in Westchester County was the site of the “first” American outdoor polo match.


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