is a variation of polo
played almost exclusively in the western United States
. Like regular
polo, it is played in chukkars with two teams on horseback
attempting to hit a ball through a goal with a mallet. However, it
differs from traditional polo in a number of ways. The most obvious
difference is that a team of five riders use western saddles
and equipment. The playing
field is usually a simple rodeo arena or other large, enclosed dirt
area, indoors or out. Instead of the small ball used in traditional
polo, the players use a large red rubber medicine ball
and use mallets with long
fiberglass shafts and hard rubber heads.
The most common horse used for cowboy polo is the American Quarter Horse
, due to its
agility. Unlike regular polo, where multiple horses are used within
a single game, riders do not change horses between chukkars, but
instead are only allowed two horses, and in some competitions are
required to ride one horse throughout. This ability to compete with
relatively few animals has given the sport its nickname, the
"average man's" sport. Horses competing in cowboy polo are often
older, experienced animals with steady dispositions who themselves
have come to understand the basic purpose of the game and can
assist their riders.
Cowboy polo originated in Florida, then called Palmetto Polo, in
1952. The name came from the mallet handles were made out of palm.
It was renamed "cowboy polo" in 1959. As it came west, it was
connected almost entirely to the membership of sheriff's posses
, groups primarily dedicated
to mounted search and
, consisting of deputized law enforcement volunteers.
While participation was once limited to men only, women were
admitted to the sport in the mid-1990s. It reached its peak of
popularity during the 1970s, with clubs from Texas to Montana, as
well as clubs in Australia.However, since then, cowboy polo has
been in decline, with the national organization disbanding in 2005.
sport is almost exclusively played in the state of Montana.
in Montana, where there were once 30 clubs, there are now only
Though the sport has written rules, the most commonly enforced rule
is unwritten: any rider who falls off his or her horse must buy
for the entire team.
Teams consist of five players, with two referees and two goal
spotters. Riders are limited to two horses per game, though most
players use one horse throughout. The game is played in four
periods of 15 minutes each, called, as in regular polo, "chukkars."
There are mandatory four-minute rest periods at the end of each
chukker and a nine-minute break at half time. Each team is allowed
four two-minute time outs during the game. Teams switch ends at
The field is divided widthwise into four sections or zones, and one
center zone of . Each team has one player assigned to each zone
with the goal of hitting the ball towoard the opponents' goal. If a
player crosses into another zone, the team loses control of the
ball to the other team. The goal areas are each and located at each
end of the arena. The arena is generally wide.
A goal made from the first zone is worth one point. Goals made from
the second zone from the goal, without being touched by either
player in the first zone is worth two points. An untouched goal
from the center zone counts for three points. Balls knocked out of
the field are returned to the spot where the ball exited the field
and the opposing team takes control of the ball.
Unruly or disobedient horses may be asked to leave the field, as
will players who endanger other players unnecessarily. Equipment
failure during the game that presents a danger to a player or horse
results in a safety time out called by the referee.
Safety is of paramount importance. There are 32 rules of play,
including 11 types of personal fouls, including “reaching across an
opposing player’s horse,” or “riding into and hitting an opposing
player’s horse in front or back of the saddle with his/her horse’s
front quarters, at greater than a 45-degree angle.”
The ball for cowboy polo is a red rubber medicine ball
. The polo mallet has a maximum
length of . It was traditionally made of cane but can be made of
fiberglass. Saddles must be American western saddles or Australian
stock saddles. Participants are strongly encouraged to have their
horses wear polo bandages
or splint boots
. Use of a breast collar
is optional. There are no
specific rules for horse headgear, as long as the equipment is
are allowed, but
officials may require the removal of any piece of equipment liable
to cause discomfort to the horse.
For riders, hats or headgear is required. Most riders now wear some
form of equestrian helmet
protective headgear, such as a cricket
with a face guard. However, Western or Australian style
felt hats may be worn. Extra protective clothing such as knee and
shin guards, is optional. Riders also must wear jeans
, riding boots
shirt in the specified club color.
- Healy, Donna. "Hockey on Horseback". Billings
Gazette, September 20, 2009. Accessed September 20,
- Wallace, Glenda. "Cowboy Polo: Family Fun on
Horseback." Distinctly Montana, Fall 2006. Accessed
September 20, 2009
- Laurel Saddle Club Cowboy Polo Team. Rules, Equipment and
Dress. Accesssed September 20, 2009