When most people watch polo, all they see are people on horses riding up and down a field, chasing after a ball while they try to score goals. Polo is not like “Pretty Woman” with people sipping champagne and stomping divots. This does happen during halftime at larger tournaments, but the sport is becoming more diverse and open to a variety of audiences.
Many think that the “polo ponies” should be small, yet they are full-sized horses, ranging from 14.2 to 16 hands. The field that is used may not look that big, but is actually the size of nine football fields, measuring 300 yards long by 150 yards wide. The mallet that players use is made out of bamboo, so it can bend, which is why some players hit the ball so hard that they break their mallets during the game.
Polo is easy to follow once you know the basics. The game consists of six periods, called chukkers, lasting seven and a half minutes each with a halftime. Each player brings about 6-8 horses to the field per game, with four players on each team. Players usually change horses either in between chukkers or halfway between chukkers depending on how tired the horses are and the how hot the temperature is.
When watching the game, there are a few basic terms to know. After seeing the game in action a few times, any viewer will catch on quickly.
HANDICAP: Handicaps in polo range from -2 to 10 “goals,” with 10 being the best.
HOOK: A player can interfere with another’s shot by putting his mallet in the way of the striker’s swing.
NEAR SIDE: The left-hand side of a horse.
OFF SIDE: The right-hand side of a horse.
PENALTY: When a foul is committed, the fouled team gets a free hit toward the offender’s goal. The type of penalty shot awarded depends on the severity of the foul.
RIDE-OFF: This is when one player makes contact with another and attempts to push him off the line of the ball to prevent his hitting the ball.
THIRD MAN: If and when the umpires disagree on a call, they refer to the “third man,” or referee sitting on the sidelines.
THROW-IN: A chukker begins (and sometimes play resumes) with the umpire bowling the ball between the two teams
The highest level of polo in the United States is 26-goal (handicap of the players adds up to 26), which is played in March and April at the International Polo Club in Palm Beach. This venue hosts polo all winter, from January through April. Grand Champions Polo Club, another venue in Wellington, Florida, also hosts polo year-round. In addition, they have a Polo School, where anyone can learn the basics of the game with professional players as their teachers. To find out more information, or to see a game in action, visit chukkertv.com. The live polo broadcasting company has all of the polo games from Wellington, as well as games from around the country. Watch ChukkerTV and its unduplicated state-of-the-art technology for exciting polo live and Video-On-Demand around the world. Check out the app for Roku and AppleTV to become a polo fan.
Photos by Arianna Delin