The Game of Polo is said to be the “Sport of Kings”. It was considered an aristocrat sport because it was limited to those that possessed the wealth to participate in the sport. I believe the meaning goes a lot deeper than this. It has often been said that the game of Polo has its beginnings as a celebration after the conquering of one army by another. The leaders of the conquering army would hit the head of the defeated leader around from horseback. Although it was claimed to be the beginning of the game of Polo, there is evidence of Polo prior to this. Some believe that Polo was developed somewhere between the 3rd and 4th millennium BC in the region of Nepal, Tibet and Northern India. The highest Polo field in elevation is found in the Himalayas at an elevation of 14,000 feet. The Game of Polo is played on horseback with a team of players. For outdoor Polo, the team consists of 4 players for arena Polo; the team consists of 3 players. Indoor Polo arena is typically 300 feet by 150 feet whereas an outdoor field is 300 yards by 160 yards.
The game for indoor and outdoor is very much the same. Outdoor is generally 6 chukkers (periods of play) of 7 minutes each and indoor is generally 4 chukkers of 7 Ã?Â½ minutes each. The game is started with the Throw in. In the throw in, the two teams are lined up next to each other on the centerline. There is a “T” drawn on the ground where the teams are on their side of the T and can’t be forward of the top of the T. The referee will throw the ball in between the opposing teams to start the game. The forward positions (the number 1’s) will move forward crossing each other’s paths heading for their goals. They would attempt to take the ball with them but they must get forward to receive a pass of the ball if one of their teammates were able to maintain possession of the ball. The player advances the ball down the field by hitting the ball with a mallet.
The opposing team member may bump him and ride him off the course of the ball. If the opposing team member has a shot at the ball, he may “back” the ball by hitting the ball with a back shot to change the direction of play. Often this rider is the number 3 rider for indoor or the number 4 rider for outdoor Polo. They are the defensive players and their main duty is to protect the goal and send the ball back up field for the other players to score goals. There are rules to maintain safety on the field of play. When horse and rider are moving at a full gallop, a collision could be fatal. When bumping another rider, the closing angle of the 2 horses can be no greater than 45 degrees. One of the most crucial rules is the rule to not cross the line of the ball. When one player hits the ball, the line of direction the ball takes is the line of the ball. The player that hit the ball has the right-of-way on that line of the ball. Another player may not cross that line to get in a better position if the rider with the line of the ball is too close whereas such action may cause a collision to occur. This is one of the most serious situations but it often happens as the opposing player is trying to get in a better position to take a shot that he or she is more comfortable with.
There are four main shots. (Near side refers to the left side of the horse and offside refers to the right side of the horse.) There is the nearside fore shot, the offside fore shot, the nearside back shot, and the offside back shot. The majority of the shots are the offside fore shot. This is the most powerful shot and the one most players will use to advance the ball down the field of play. The back shots, obviously, are used to change the direction of play. The nearside fore shot is often used when the player is riding off an opponent and has the ball on their nearside. The nearside back shot is often used to change the direction of play while riding off an opposing player or avoiding crossing the line of the ball while changing the direction of play. There are several other rules and situations to add fairness to the game such as the handicap system. The game of Polo is not heavily promoted but it would be worth the time to take in a game or two. There are a lot more college teams plying Polo than before. Any thing to do with horses is costly and Polo is certainly one of those on the top of that list.
Unlike horse racing, it is not a gambling sport. Horse racing is very valuable due to the amount of gambling behind it. This is not the case with Polo. Horse racing and Polo are 2 extremes in the use of horses. The game is nearing the end; your team is down by one point. The opposing team has the ball in front of their goal and you’re the only one that can stop them from scoring. Their player takes a shot and it deflects off your pony. You take off after the ball and you get it turned. You have a clear shot at taking the ball up field but one of the opposing team players is right behind you with his mallet close to you. Your coach is yelling. “Take a full shot!” You’re at a full gallop but you’re dribbling the ball along. You’re just tapping the ball along and your coach is going ballistic because you worked on this all year. You tap the ball along with the flip of only your wrist, 3 taps, 4 taps and the final tap. IN THE GOAL, YOU SCORE!!!
The chukker ends and you’re in overtime. The fourth player goes in for you. The coach comes up and you know what he’s going to say, “WHY didn’t you take a full swing?” “Coach, he had the hook all the way. If I tried he would have blocked my shot.” We lost the game in overtime but it was a stellar performance for our first year.