Two players disputing the ball in a polo match.
|Highest governing body||Federation of International Polo|
|Nicknames||The Sport of Kings |
|First played||Achaemenid Empire, 6th century BC |
|Team members||4 per side|
|Type||Equestrian, ball game, team sport, outdoor|
|Equipment||Ball, stick, horse|
|Venue||Polo field (grass)|
|Country or region||Esfehan, Iran.|
|Olympic||No (since 1936)|
Polo is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team's goal using a long-handled mallet. The traditional sport of polo is played at speed on a large grass field up to 300 yards long by 160 yards wide, and each polo team consists of four riders and their mounts. Field polo is played with a solid plastic sphere (ball) which has replaced the wooden version of the ball in much of the sport. In arena polo, only three players are required per team and the game usually involves more maneuvering and shorter plays at lower speeds due to space limitations of the arena. Arena polo is played with a small air-filled ball, similar to a small soccer ball. The modern game lasts roughly two hours and is divided into periods called chukkas (occasionally rendered as "chukkers"). Polo is played professionally in 16 countries. It was formerly, but is not currently, an Olympic sport.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, polo was first played in Persia (Iran) at dates given from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD. Other authors give dates as early as the 5th century BC (or earlier) Its birthplace was Asia and authorities[who?] credit Persian Emperor Shapur II of the Sassanid dynasty of the 4th century who learned to play polo when he was seven years old. Naqsh-i Jahan Square in Isfahan is a polo field which was built by king Abbas I in the 17th century.
Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aybak, the Turkic slave from Northern Afghanistan who then became Emperor of North India, ruled as an emperor for only four years, from 1206 to 1210, but died accidentally in 1210. While he was playing a game of polo on horseback (also called chougan in Persia), his horse fell and Aibak was impaled on the pommel of his saddle. He was buried near the Anarkali bazaar in Lahore (which is now in Pakistan). Aibak's son Aram died in 1211 CE , so Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, another ex-slave of Turkic ancestry who was married to Aibak's daughter, succeeded him as Sultan of Delhi.
From Persia, in medieval times polo spread to the Byzantines (who called it tzykanion), and after the Muslim conquests to the Ayyubid and Mameluke dynasties of Egypt and the Levant, whose elites favoured it above all other sports. Notable sultans such as Saladin and Baybars were known to play it and encourage it in their court. Polo sticks were features on the Mameluke precursor to modern day playing cards.
Later on, polo was passed from Persia to other parts of Asia including the Indian subcontinent and China, where it was very popular during the Tang Dynasty and frequently depicted in paintings and statues. Valuable for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan by the Middle Ages. It is known in the East as the Game of Kings. The name polo is said to have been derived from the Tibetan word "pulu", meaning ball.
The modern game of polo, though formalised and popularised by the British, is derived from Manipur (now a state in India) where the game was known as 'Sagol Kangjei', 'Kanjai-bazee', or 'Pulu'.  It was the anglicised form of the last, referring to the wooden ball that was used, which was adopted by the sport in its slow spread to the west. The first polo club was established in the town of Silchar in Assam, India, in 1834.
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). Local rituals such as those connected to the Marjing, the Winged-Pony God of Polo and the creation-ritual episodes of the Lai Haraoba festival enacting the life of his son, Khori-Phaba, the polo-playing god of sports. These may indicate an origin earlier than the historical records of Manipur. Later, according to Chaitharol-Kumbaba, a Royal Chronicle of Manipur King Kangba who ruled Manipur much earlier than Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33 AD) introduced Sagol Kangjei (Kangjei on horse back). Further regular playing of this game commenced in 1605 during the reign of King Khagemba under newly framed rules of the game.
In Manipur, polo is traditionally played with seven players to a side. The players are mounted on the indigenous Manipuri pony, which stands less than 13 hands (52 inches, 132 cm). There are no goal posts, and a player scores simply by hitting the ball out of either end of the field. Players strike the ball with the long side of the stick (not the end as in croquet; players are also permitted to carry the ball, though doing so allows opponents to physically tackle them when they are doing so. The sticks are made of cane, and the balls are made from the roots of bamboo. Colorful cloth pom-poms dangle at sensitive and vulnerable spots around the anatomy of the ponies to protect them. Players protected their legs by attaching leather shields to their saddles and girths.
In Manipur, the game was not merely a "rich" game but was played even by commoners who owned a pony. The kings of Manipur had a royal polo ground within the ramparts of their Kangla Fort. Here they played Manung Kangjei Bung (literally, "Inner Polo Ground"). Public games were held, as they are still today, at the Mapan Kangjei Bung (literally "Outer Polo Ground"), a polo ground just outside the Kangla. Weekly games called Hapta Kangjei (Weekly Polo) were also played in a polo ground outside the current Palace.
The oldest polo ground in the world is the Imphal Polo Ground in Manipur State. The history of this pologround is contained in the royal chronicle "Cheitharol Kumbaba" starting from AD 33. Lieutenant Joseph Ford Sherer, the father of modern polo visited the state and played on this polo ground in the 1850s. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India visited the state in 1901 and measured the pologround as 225 yards long and 110 yards wide. The oldest royal polo square is the 16th century Gilgit Polo Field, Pakistan, while the highest polo ground in the world, Shandur, located in district Chitral, Pakistan at 4,307 metres (14,131 feet). A traditional polo tournament between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit takes place every year in July. Maj Cobb from British Raj was a polo fan and he used to come to Shandur for playing polo on the invitation of Mehtar Chitral in moon light.
In 1862 the first polo club, Calcutta Polo Club, was established by two British soldiers, Captain Robert Stewart and Major General Joseph Ford Sherer. Later they spread the game to their peers in England. The British are credited with spreading polo worldwide in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. Military officers imported the game to Britain in the 1860s. The establishment of polo clubs throughout England and western Europe followed after the formal codification of rules. The 10th Hussars at Aldershot, Hants, introduced polo to England in 1834. The game's governing body in the United Kingdom is the Hurlingham Polo Association, which drew up the first set of formal British rules in 1874, many of which are still in existence.
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.
The sport spread fast between the skilful gauchos and several clubs opened in the following years in the towns of Venado Tuerto, Cañada de Gómez, Quilmes, Flores and later (1888) Hurlingham. In 1892 The River Plate Polo Association was founded and constituted the basis for the current Asociación Argentina de Polo. In the Olympic Games held in Paris in 1924 a team composed by Juan Miles, Enrique Padilla, Juan Nelson, Arturo Kenny, G. Brooke Naylor and A. Peña obtained the first gold medal for the country's olympic history; this also occurred in Berlín 1936 with players Manuel Andrada, Andrés Gazzotti, Roberto Cavanagh, Luis Duggan, Juan Nelson, Diego Cavanagh and Enrique Alberdi.
From then on, the game spread powerfully across the country and Argentina is credited globally as the mecca of polo, mainly because Argentina is notably the country with the largest number ever of 10 handicap players in the world.
Five great teams were able to ensemble together four 10 handicap players in order to make a 40 handicap team: Coronel Suárez, 1975, 1977-1979 (Alberto Heguy, Juan Carlos Harriott, Alfredo Harriot and Horacio Heguy); La Espadaña, 1989-1990 (Carlos Gracida, Gonzalo Pieres, Alfonso Pieres y Ernesto Trotz Jr.); Indios Chapaleufú, 1992-1993 (Bautista Heguy, Gonzalo Heguy, Horacio Heguy Jr. and Marcos Heguy); La Dolfina, 2009-2010 (Adolfo Cambiaso Jr., Lucas Monteverde, Mariano Aguerre y Bartolomé Castagnola); Ellerstina, 2009 (Facundo Pieres, Gonzalo Pieres Jr., Pablo Mac Donough and Juan Martín Nero).
Argentina was host of the ninth edition of the World Polo Championship (for teams of up to 14 goals) at the Estancia Grande Polo Club, in the province of San Luis in October 2011.
The three major polo tournaments in Argentina, known as “Triple Corona” ("Triple Crown"), are Hurlingham Polo Open, Tortugas Polo Open, Palermo Polo Open. Polo season usually last from October to December.
This version of polo played in the 19th century was different from the faster form that was played in Manipur. The game was slow and methodical, with little passing between players and few set plays that required specific movements by participants without the ball. Neither players nor horses were trained to play a fast, nonstop game. This form of polo lacked the aggressive methods and equestrian skills to play. From the 1800s to the 1910s, a host of teams representing Indian principalities dominated the international polo scene.
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.
H.L. Herbert, James Gordon Bennett and August Belmont financed the original New York Polo Grounds. Herbert stated in a 1913 article that they formed the Westchester Club after the "first" outdoor game was played on 13 May 1876. This contradicts the historical record of the club being established before the Jerome Park game..
There is, however, ample evidence that the first to play polo in America was actually the English Texans. The Galveston News reported on 2 May 1876 that Denison Texas had a Polo Club which was before James Gordon Bennett established his Westchester Club or attempted to play the "first" game. The Denison team sent a letter to James Gordon Bennett challenging him to a match game. The challenge was published 2 June 1876 in The Galveston Daily News. By the time the article came out on 2 June the Denison Club had already received a letter from Bennett indicating the challenge was offered before the "first" games in New York.
There is also an urban legend that the first game of polo in America was played in Boerne, Texas at retired British officer Captain Glynn Turquand's famous Balcones Ranch The Boerne, Texas legend also has plenty of evidence pointing to the fact that polo was played in Boerne before James Gordon Bennett Jr. ever picked up a polo mallet.
During the early part of the 20th century, under the leadership of Harry Payne Whitney, polo changed to become a high-speed sport in the United States, differing from the game in England, where it involved short passes to move the ball toward the opposition's goal. Whitney and his teammates used the fast break, sending long passes downfield to riders who had broken away from the pack at a full gallop.
In the late 1950s, champion polo player and Director of the Long Island Polo Association, Walter Scanlon, introduced the "short form", or "European" style, four period match, to the game of polo.
The rules of polo are written and used to provide for the safety of both players and horses. The rules are enforced in the game by the umpires who blow whistles when a penalty occurs. Strategic plays in polo are based on the "line of the ball", an imaginary line created by the ball as it travels down the field. This line traces the ball's path and extends past the ball along that trajectory. The line of the ball defines rules for players to approach the ball safely. These rules are created and enforced to ensure the welfare of players and their horses. The "line of the ball" changes each time the ball changes direction. The player who hit the ball generally has the right of way, and other players cannot cross the line of the ball in front of that player. As players approach the ball, they ride on either side of the line of the ball giving each access to the ball. A player can cross the line of the ball when it does not create a dangerous situation. Most fouls and penalty shots are related to players improperly crossing the line of the ball or the right of way. When a player has the line of the ball on his right, he has the right of way. A "ride-off" is when a player moves another player off the line of the ball by making shoulder-to-shoulder contact with the other players’ horses.
The defending player has a variety of opportunities for his or her team to gain possession of the ball. He/she can push the opponent off the line or steal the ball from the opponent. Another common defensive play is called "hooking." While a player is taking a swing at the ball, his/her opponent can block the swing by using his/her mallet to hook the mallet of the player swinging at the ball. A player may hook only if is he/she is on the side where the swing is being made or directly behind an opponent. A player may not purposely touch another player, his/her tack or pony with his/her mallet. Unsafe hooking is a foul that will result in a penalty shot being awarded. For example, it is a foul for a player to reach over an opponent's mount in an attempt to hook.
The other basic defensive play is called the bump or ride-off. It's similar to a body check in hockey. In a ride-off, a player rides his pony alongside an opponent's mount in order to move an opponent away from the ball or to take him out of a play. It must be executed properly so that it does not endanger the horses or the players. The angle of contact must be safe and can not knock the horses off balance, or harm the horses in any way. Two players following the line of the ball and riding one another off have the right of way over a single man coming from any direction.
Like in hockey or basketball, fouls are potentially dangerous plays that infringe on the rules of the game. To the novice spectator, fouls may be difficult to discern. There are degrees of dangerous and unfair play and penalty shots are awarded depending based on the severity of the foul and where the foul was committed on the polo field. White lines on the polo field indicate where the mid-field, sixty, forty and thirty yard penalties are taken.
The official set of rules and rules interpretations are reviewed and published each year by each country's polo association. Most of the smaller associations follow the rules of the Hurlingham Polo Association, the national governing body of the sport of polo in the United Kingdom.
The mounts used are called 'polo ponies', although the term pony is purely traditional and the mount is actually a full-sized horse. They range from 14.2 to 16 hands high at the withers, and weigh 900–1100 lbs. The polo pony is selected carefully for quick bursts of speed, stamina, agility and manoeuvrability. Temperament is critical; the horse must remain responsive under pressure and not become excited or difficult to control. Many are Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses. They are trained to be handled with one hand on the reins, and to respond to the rider's leg and weight cues for moving forward, turning and stopping. A well trained horse will carry its rider smoothly and swiftly to the ball and can account for 60 to 75 percent of the player's skill and net worth to his team.
Polo pony training generally begins at age three and lasts from about six months to two years. Most horses reach full physical maturity at about age five, and ponies are at their peak of athleticism and training at around age 6 or 7. However, without any accidents, polo ponies may have the ability to play until they are 18 to 20 years of age.
Each player must have more than one pony, so tired mounts can be exchanged for fresh mounts between or even during chukkas. A player's "string" of polo ponies may number 2 or 3 in Low Goal matches (with ponies being rested for at least a chukka before reuse), 4 or more for Medium Goal matches (at least one per chukka), and even more for the highest levels of competition.
Each team consists of four mounted players, which can be mixed teams of both men and women.
Each position assigned to a player has certain responsibilities:
Polo must be played right-handed.
The basic dress of a player is a protective equestrian helmet (usually of a distinctive colour, to be distinguished at the considerable distance from which onlookers are watching the game), riding boots to just below the knees, white trousers (often ordinary denim jeans), and a coloured shirt bearing the number of the player's position. Optional equipment includes one or two gloves, wristbands, kneepads (mandatory in some clubs), spurs, face mask, and a whip. The only piece of equipment required by the United States Polo Association (USPA) rules is the helmet or cap with a chin strap.
The outdoor polo ball is made of a high-impact plastic, but was formerly made of either bamboo or willow root. The indoor polo ball is leather-covered and inflated, and is about 4 1⁄2 inches (11 cm) in diameter. The outdoor ball is about 3 1⁄4 inches (8.3 cm) in diameter and weighs about four ounces (113.4 g). The polo mallet has a rubber-wrapped grip and a webbed thong, called a sling, for wrapping around the thumb. The shaft is made of manau-cane (not bamboo because it is hollowed) although a small number of mallets today are made from Composite materials. Composite materials are not preferred by top players, because the shaft of composite mallets can't absorb vibrations as well as traditional cane mallets. The heads of the mallet are generally a cigar shape made from a hardwood called tipa, approximately 91⁄4" inches long. The mallet head weighs from 160 grams to 240 grams, depending on player preference and the type of wood used, and the shaft can vary in weight and flexibility depending on the player's preference. The weight of the mallet head is of important consideration for the more seasoned players. Female players often use lighter mallets than male players. For some polo players, the length of the mallet depends on the size of the horse: the taller the horse, the longer the mallet. However, some players prefer to use a single length of mallet regardless of the height of the horse. Either way, playing horses of differing heights requires some adjustment by the rider. Variable sizes of the mallet typically range from 50 inches to 53 inches. The term mallet is used exclusively in US English; British English prefers the term polo stick as the stick technically differs from a mallet in shape and usage. The ball is struck with the broad sides of the mallet head rather than its round and flat tips.
Polo saddles are English-style, close contact, similar to jumping saddles; although most polo saddles lack a flap under the billets. Some players will not use a saddle blanket. The saddle has a flat seat and no knee support; the rider adopting a forward-leaning seat and closed knees dissimilar to a classical dressage seat. A breastplate is added, usually attached to the front billet. A standing martingale must be used: so, a breastplate is a necessity for safety. The tie-down is usually supported by a neck strap. Many saddles also have an overgirth. The stirrup irons are heavier than most, and the stirrup leathers are wider and thicker, for added safety when the player stands in the stirrups. The legs of the pony are wrapped with polo wraps from below the knee to the fetlock to prevent injury. Jumping (open front) or gallop boots are sometimes used along with the polo wraps for added protection. Often, these wraps match the team colours. The pony's mane is most often roached (hogged), and its tail is docked or braided so that it will not snag the rider's mallet.
Polo is ridden with double reins for greater accuracy of signals. The bit is frequently a gag bit or Pelham bit. In both cases, the gag or shank rein will be the bottom rein in the rider's hands, while the snaffle rein will be the top rein. If a gag bit is used, there will be a drop noseband in addition to the cavesson, supporting the tie-down. One of the rein sets may alternately be draw reins.
The playing field is 300 yards (274 metres) long by 160 yards (146 metres) wide, the approximate area of nine American football fields. The playing field is carefully maintained with closely mowed turf providing a safe, fast playing surface. Goals are posts which are set eight yards apart, centred at each end of the field. The surface of a polo field requires careful and constant grounds maintenance to keep the surface in good playing condition. During half-time of a match, spectators are invited to go onto the field to participate in a polo tradition called "divot stamping", which has developed to not only help replace the mounds of earth (divots) that are torn up by the horses' hooves, but to afford spectators the opportunity to walk about and socialise.
The game consists of four to eight 7 minute chukkas, between or during which players change mounts. At the end of each 7 minute chukka, play continues for an additional 30 seconds or until a stoppage in play, whichever comes first. There is a four minute interval between chukkas and a ten minute halftime. Play is continuous and is only stopped for penalties, broken tack (equipment) or injury to horse or player. The object is to score goals by hitting the ball between the goal posts, no matter how high in the air. If the ball goes wide of the goal, the defending team is allowed a free 'knock-in' from the place where the ball crossed the goal line, thus getting the ball back into play.
With most clubs in the UK, players need to become members, and invest in at least two ponies to be able to play "standard" club chukkas. It is usual to play four back-to-back chukkas using each pony for two chukkas alternately, so that they each play, then rest and then play again.
For many people, this requires a very large financial investment, which can be too costly for some. County Polo creates more affordable parameters for newcomers to the sport. Players are only required to use one pony, which may be hired, or owned. This form of polo is usually played with three players per side—as opposed to the standard four-player polo—and therefore allows each player to get more involved and develop.
The County Polo chukkas are usually overseen by a qualified mounted Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) instructor / umpire, who will coach and explain throughout the chukka.
With this format, including shorter chukkas, with breaks in between, the ponies are not getting over tired, so there is no need for such a large "string". Players may well continue to play polo at this level for many years, or players with more ambition could benefit from the tuition if they move onto more competitive polo.
County Polo is best complemented with regular stick-and-ball sessions, and regular wooden horse practice.
County Polo has had a resurgence in recent years, although the original County Polo Association was formed in 1898* to look after the interests of the country clubs and to run the County Cup Tournaments), the three London polo clubs—Hurlingham, Ranelagh and Roehampton—and from all associations within the Empire where polo was being played.
Polo is now an active sport in 77 countries, and although its tenure as an Olympic sport was limited to 1900–1939, in 1998 the International Olympic Committee recognised it as a sport with a bona fide international governing body, the Federation of International Polo. The World Polo Championship is held every three years by the Federation of International Polo.
Polo is, however, played professionally in only a few countries, notably Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Iran, India, New Zealand, Mexico, Pakistan, Jamaica, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Polo is unique among team sports in that amateur players, often the team patrons, routinely hire and play alongside the sport's top professionals.
The modern sport has had difficulty grappling with the traditional social and economic exclusivity associated with a game that is inevitably expensive when played at a serious level. Many polo players genuinely desire to broaden public participation in the sport, both as an end in itself and to increase the standard of play, while others value and seek to preserve the social and economic exclusivity of the sport. The popularity of polo has grown steadily since the 1980s.
Polo was played at the 2007 Southeast Asian Games. Nations that competed in the tournament were Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines. The tournament's gold medal was won by the Malaysian team, followed by Singapore with silver and Thailand with bronze.
The recent surge of excitement in south-east Asia around the game has resulted in its popularity in cities such as Pattaya, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. In Pattaya alone, there are 3 active polo clubs: Polo Escape, Siam Polo Park and Thai Polo and Equestrian Club. Indonesia, a country without royal ruling, has a polo club (Nusantara Polo Club). More recently, Janek Gazecki and Ruki Baillieu have organised polo matches in parks "around metropolitan Australia, backed by wealthy sponsors."
A new Chinese Equestrian Association has been formed and two new clubs have been formed in China itself: the Beijing Sunny Time Polo Club, founded by Xia Yang in 2004 and the Nine Dragons Hill Polo Club in Shanghai, founded in 2005.
Polo in Iran is governed by the Polo Federation of Iran. There are five polo clubs in Iran: Ghasr Firoozeh, Noroozabad, Army Ground Forces, Kanoon Chogan and Nesfeh Jahan. Iran possesses some of the best grass polo fields in the region. The country currently has over 100 registered players of which approximately 15% are women. Historically, Kurdish and Persian Arabian horses were the most widely used for polo. This was probably also the case in ancient times. Today Thoroughbreds are being increasingly used alongside the Kurdish and Persian Arabian horses. Some players have also been experimenting with Anglo-Arabians. Iranians still refer to the game of polo by its original Persian name of "Chogan", which means mallet. Iranians still maintain some of the ancient rituals of the game in official polo matches.
Polo first began its Irish history in 1870 with the first official game played on Gormanstown Strand, Co. Meath. Three years later the All Ireland Polo Club was founded by Mr. Horace Rochford in the Phoenix Park. Since then the sport has continued to grow with a further seven clubs opening around the country. The sport has also been made more accessible by these clubs by the creation of more affordable training programmes such as from beginner to pro programme at Polo Wicklow.
Sagol Kangjei, discussed above, is arguably a version of polo though it can also be seen as the precursor of modern outdooor polo.
Arena polo (or indoor polo) is an affordable option for many who wish to play the sport, with rules similar to the regular version. The sport is played in a 300 feet by 150 feet enclosed arena, much like those used for other equestrian sports; the minimum size is 150 feet by 75 feet. There are many arena clubs in the United States, and most major polo clubs, including the Santa Barbara Polo & Raquet Club, have active arena programs. The major differences between the outdoor and indoor games are: speed (outdoor being faster), physicality/roughness (indoor/arena is more physical), ball size (indoor is larger), goal size (because the arena is smaller the goal is smaller), and some penalties. In the United States and Canada, collegiate polo is arena polo; in the UK, collegiate polo is both.
A form of arena polo seen almost exclusively in the western United States is cowboy polo.
Another modern variant is snow polo, which is played on compacted snow on flat ground or a frozen lake. The format of snow polo varies depending on the space available. Each team generally consists of three players and a bright coloured light plastic ball is preferred.
A popular combination of the sports of polo and lacrosse is the game of polocrosse, which was developed in Australia in the late 1930s.
These sports are considered as separate sports because of the differences in the composition of teams, equipment, rules, game facilities etc.
Polo is not played exclusively on horseback. Such polo variants are mostly played for recreational or tourist purposes; they include canoe polo, cycle polo, camel polo, elephant polo, golfcart polo, Segway polo and yak polo. In the early 1900s in the United States, cars were used instead of horses in the sport of Auto polo.