is a team sport played on horseback
in which the objective is to score
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 in length, and each
polo team consists of four riders and their mounts.
Polo variants on horseback
A modern variant is called arena polo
which is played indoors or more commonly outdoors on an enclosed
all-weather surface (the field of play is much smaller, rarely
exceeding 100 yards in length). In arena polo there are only three
players on each team and a small inflatable leather ball is used
instead. Arena polo matches usually consist of four 6 minute
periods (called chukkas or chukkers), as opposed to field polo
matches which consist of between four and eight 7 minute chukkas
(depending on the level being played). A form of arena polo seen
almost exclusively in the western United States is cowboy polo
variant is beach polo, a close variant of
arena polo, played on sand in Dubai and Miami and most
recently in the UK.
Another modern variant is snow polo
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 colored 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
Other polo variants
Polo is not played exclusively on horseback. Such polo variants are
mostly played for recreational or touristic purposes; they include
, camel polo
, elephant polo
, golfcart polo
, bike polo
, BMX polo
, yak polo
, and spongee polo.
first played in Persia/Iran at
dates given from the 6th century BC, or much earlier, to the 1st
century AD and originated there.
Polo was at first a
training game for cavalry units, usually the king's guard or other
elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen, who played it with as many
as 100 to a side, it was a miniature battle. In time polo became an
Iranian national sport played extensively by the nobility. Women as
well as men played the game, as indicated by references to the
queen and her ladies engaging King Khosrow II
and his courtiers in the 6th century AD. Certainly
literature and art give
us the richest accounts of polo in antiquity. Ferdowsi
, the famed Iranian poet-historian, gives a
number of accounts of royal polo tournaments in his 9th century
(the Epic of Kings). In
the earliest account, Ferdowsi romanticizes an international match
force and the followers of
, a legendary Iranian prince
from the earliest centuries of the Empire; the poet is eloquent in
his praise of Siyâvash's skills on the polo field. Ferdowsi also
tells of Emperor Shapur II
of the Sassanid dynasty
of the 4th century who
learned to play polo when he was only seven years old.
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 favored it above all other
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
and frequently depicted in paintings and statues.
for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan by the
Known in the East as
the Game of Kings. The name polo
is said to have been
derived from the Tibetan
"pulu", meaning ball.
game of polo, though formalized and popularized by the British, is derived from Manipur (now a state
in India) who played
the game known as 'Sagol
Kangjei','Kanjai-bazee', or 'Pulu'.
It was the
anglicised form of the latter, referring to the wooden ball which
was used, that was adopted by the sport in its slow spread to the
first polo club was established in the town of Silchar in Assam, India, in
origins of the game in Manipur are traced
to early precursors of Sagol
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 prior to the historical records of Manipur,
which go back to the 1st Century A.D.
Manipur, polo is traditionally played with seven players to
The players are mounted on the indigenous Manipuri
pony, which stands less than 13 hands high. There are no goal posts
and a player scored simply by hitting the ball out of either end of
the field. Players were also permitted to carry the ball, though
that allowed opponents to physically tackle players when they do
so. The sticks were made of cane and the balls were made from the
roots of bamboo. Colorful cloth pom-poms dangle at sensitive and
vulnerable spots around the anatomy of the ponies in order 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.
In 1862 the first polo club, Calcutta
was established by two British soldiers, Captain
Robert Stewart and Major General Joe Shearer. Later they spread the
game to their peers in England.
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 1869. 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.
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
found popularity in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Pakistan and the United States of America.
James Gordon Bennett, Jr.
organized the first polo match in the United States at Dickel's
Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. 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
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.
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 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 4307 meters (14,000 ft).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.The oldest polo club in the world still in
existence is the Calcutta Polo Club (1862).
Field polo requires two teams of 4 players
full-size field is 300 yards long, and either 200 yards or 160
yards wide if there are side boards—these are generally 6" high.
There are tall collapsible goalposts at each end of the field
spread 8 yards apart. The object of the game is to score the most
goals by hitting the ball through the goal. Ends are changed after
a goal is scored.
In arena polo, which is popular in the United States and England,
the size of the field is ideally 100 yards long by 50 yards wide.
The size of arena fields in the United States, where arena polo was
first played, is often more variable where indoor armories and
riding academies are still occasionally used. The playing boundary
is marked by high wooden walls (usually at least 6 feet high).
Arena polo requires teams of three riders, and goals are scored by
passing the ball into a 10-foot-wide by 12-foot-high goal recessed
into the end walls. In arena polo ends are changed at the end of
each 6-minute period (chukka or chukker) and not after a goal is
scored. Arena polo uses a small leather ball between 12.5 and
15 inches in circumference and looks like a miniature
Pakistan Shandur invites visitors to experience a traditional polo
tournament between the teams of Chitral and Gilgit in every
year of July.
The tournament is held on Shandur Pass
, the highest polo ground in the
world at 3,700 meters. The festival also includes Folk music
is set up.
Gilgit, Chitral and Skardu have always
played the game of polo closest to its original form.
past, local Khans, Mirs and Mehtars were the patrons of the game.
At times, more than 50% of the annual budget of their
principalities would be spent on supporting the game
A polo game has periods of play, known as chukkas
). This term originated in 1898 and is derived
from Hindi chakkar
from Sanskrit chakra
wheel" (compare chakka
). Depending on the
rules of the particular tournament or league, a game may have 4, 6
or 8 chukkas; 6 chukkas are most common Usually, each chukka is 7
minutes long, but some games are played in shorter chukkas. Between
chukkas, the players switch to fresh ponies. In less competitive
polo leagues, players may play only two ponies, alternating between
them. For more competitive leagues, and in United States
intercollegiate polo, each pony is played in at most two chukkas.
Games are often played with a handicap
in which the sum of the individual players' respective handicaps
are compared. The team with the lower handicap is given the
difference in handicaps as goals before the start of the
The game begins with the two teams of four lined up each team in
line forming two rows with the players in order 1, 2, 3, 4 facing
the umpire in the center of the playing field. There are two
mounted umpires on the field and a referee standing on the
sidelines. At the beginning of a game, one of the umpires bowls the
ball in hard between the two teams. Teams change goals on ends of
the field/arena after each score or chukker for indoor to minimize
any wind advantage which may exist. Switching sides also allows
each team equal opportunity to start off with the ball on their
right side, as all players must hit right-handed.
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
(one hand equals four inches or
10.16 cm), and weigh between 900-1100 lbs. The polo pony
is selected carefully for quick bursts of speed, stamina, agility
and maneuverability. Temperament is critical; the horse must remain
responsive under pressure and not become excited or difficult to
control. Many are Thoroughbreds
Thoroughbred crosses. They are trained to be handled with one hand
on the reins
, and to be responsive to the
rider's leg and weight cues for moving forward, turning and
stopping. A well trained horse will carry his 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 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
More than one pony per player is needed in order to allow tired
mounts to be changed for fresh mounts between or even during
chukkas. There are typically between 4 to 8 ponies per player. The
group of ponies for a given player is commonly referred to as a
of polo ponies", with a minimum of 2 or 3
ponies in Low Goal matches (with ponies being rested for at least a
chukker before reuse), 4 or more ponies for Medium Goal matches (at
least one per chukker), many more for the highest levels of
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:
- Number One is the most offense-oriented
position on the field. The Number One position generally covers the
opposing team's Number Four.
- Number Two has an important role in offense,
either running through and scoring themselves, or passing to the
Number One and getting in behind them. Defensively, they will cover
the opposing team's Number Three, generally the other team's best
player. Given the difficulty of this position, it is not uncommon
for the best player on the team to play Number Two so long as
another strong player is available to play Three.
- Number Three is the tactical leader and must
be a long powerful hitter to feed balls to Number Two and Number
One as well as maintaining a solid defense. The best player on the
team is usually the Number Three player, usually wielding the
- Number Four is the primary defense player.
They can move anywhere on the field, but they usually try to
prevent scoring. The emphasis on defense by the Number Four allows
the Number Three to attempt more offensive plays, since they know
that they will be covered if they lose the ball.
Polo must be played right-handed. Left-handed play was ruled out in
1975 for safety reasons. To date, only 3 players on the world
circuit are left-handed.
The basic dress of a player is a protective helmet
(usually of a distinctive color, 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 colored 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 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 4½ inches
(11.4 cm) in diameter. The outdoor ball is about 3¼ 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 thumb sling, for wrapping around the hand. The shaft is made
of manau-cane (not bamboo because it is hollowed)with a hardwood
head from tipa wood approximately 9½ inches in length. 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 (also called "cigar") is of important
consideration for the more seasoned players. Female players almost
always use lighter mallets and cigars than male players. For some
polo players, the length of the polo 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 48 inches to 54 inches.
The ball is struck with the longer sides of the mallet head rather
than its round and flat tips.
are English-style, similar to
although most polo
saddles lack a flap under the billets
having instead a saddle blanket. Some players omit the saddle
blanket. A breastplate
is added, usually
attached to the front billet. A tie-down (standing Martingale
) may be used: if so, for safety
a breastplate is a necessity. Usually the tie-down is supported by
a neck strap. An overgirth may be used. 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
from below the knee to the
fetlock to prevent injury. Often, these wraps match the team
colors. The pony's mane is roached
and its tail is braided so that it will not snag the rider's
frequently is a gag bit
or Pelham bit
a gag bit, there will be a drop noseband in addition to the
cavesson supporting the tie-down. There frequently will be two sets
of reins, and one set of reins frequently will be a draw
The playing field is 300 yards long by 160 yards 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, centered 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 socialize.
The game consists of six 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.
There are minor variations between the US and British rules of
arena polo. The game consists of four periods also called chukkas
(six and a half minute chukkas are currently played under British
arena rules), between which players change mounts. An individual
horse may not play two successive chukkas. Play is continuous and
is only stopped for penalties, broken equipment that may be
dangerous, or injury to horse or player. The object is to score
goals by hitting the ball against the back wall of the recessed
goalmouths at each end of the arena. Ends change at the end of each
chukka not after goals are scored as in field polo. High wooden
boundary walls, which are usually 5–6 feet high, and netting above
the walls aim to prevent the ball from going out of bounds. If the
ball goes out it is considered a dead ball and the game is
restarted (under current British arena rules free hits are awarded
against the team that hit the ball out). Although the smaller
playing area in arena polo prevents the horses from galloping at
the speeds reached in field polo, the game is arguably quicker with
non-stop end-to-end action.
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
The World Polo
of Polo is held every three years by the Federation of International
however, played professionally in only a few countries, notably
Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Iran, India, Mexico,Pakistan, 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 United States
(USPA) is the governing body for polo in the
U.S. However, the U.S. is unique in that it possesses a
professional women's polo league and a professional men's polo
league: the United
States Women's Polo Federation
and the United States Men's Polo
, founded in 2000. The 32-team league plays across
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
athletes genuinely desire to broaden public participation in the
sport, both as an end in itself and to increase the standard of
play. The popularity of polo has grown steadily since the 1980s,
and its future appears to have been greatly strengthened by its
return as a varsity sport at universities across the world.
Arena (or indoor) polo is an affordable option for many who wish to
play the sport, and the rules are similar. 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
South East Asia
After an 18 year absence, polo gained Olympic recognition when it
was played at the 2007 Southeast Asian
. 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.
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
). A South
East Asian Polo Federation was formed with initial meeting in March
2008 that involves Royal Malaysian Polo
, Thailand Polo
, Singapore Polo Association
Royal Brunai Polo
Philippines Polo Association
. More recently, Janek Gazecki
and Ruki Baillieu
have organised polo matches in
parks "around metropolitan Australia, backed by wealthy
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
Shanghai, founded in 2005.
Notable polo players
indicate those who are notable also outside of
- Buzkashi involves two teams of horse
riders, a dead goat and few rules. It is played in Central Asia, and has a variant known as
kokpar which is quite similar.
- Cowboy polo uses rules similar to
regular polo, but riders compete with western saddles, usually in a smaller arena,
using an inflatable rubber medicine
- Horseball is a game played on
horseback where a ball is handled and points are scored by shooting
it through a high net. The sport is a combination of polo, rugby,
- Pato was played in
Argentina for centuries, but is much different than modern
polo. No mallets are used, and it is not played on
- Polocrosse is another game played on
horseback, a cross between polo and lacrosse.
- R. G. Goel, Veena Goel, Encyclopaedia of sports and
games, Published by Vikas Pub. House, 1988, Excerpt from page
318: Persian Polo. Its birth place was Asia and authorities
credit Persia with having devised it about 2000 BC..
- Steve Craig, Sports and games of the ancients,
Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 2002, ISBN 0313316007, p.
- Naqsh-i Jahan Square in Isfahan is in fact a polo field which
was built by king Abbas I in 17th century.
- Malcolm D. Whitman, Tennis: Origins and Mysteries,
Published by Courier Dover Publications, 2004, ISBN 0486433579, p.
- Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th Centuries by Robert
Crego. page 25. Published 2003. Greenwood Press. Sports &
Recreation. 296 pages ISBN 0313316104
- The Guinness Book of Records.
1991 edition (page 288)
- Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th Centuries by Robert
Crego. Page 26. Published 2003. Greenwood Press. Sports &
Recreation. 296 pages. ISBN 0313316104
- Sports and Games of the 18th and 19th Centuries by Robert
Crego. Page 26 - 27. Published 2003. Greenwood Press. Sports &
Recreation. 296 pages ISBN 0313316104
- FIP World Cup VIII - 2007
- . Polo.co.uk
- 8o Campeonato Mundial de Polo: México 2008
- The Daily Telegraph
- Polo by Penina Meisels and Michael Cronan. Collins Publishers,
San Francisco, 1992. ISBN 0-00-637796-3
- America's Polo Cup
- American Polo Horse Association
- Federation of
- National Polo League
- United States
Polo Association (USPA)
Polo Association - Governing body of the sport in the UK &
- Edinburgh Polo Club
- Polo offers City pros a level playing field, by
Jorn Madslien, BBC News
- Luxury brands target the polo set, by Jorn
Madslien, BBC News
- Making a mint out of polo ponies, by Jorn Madslien,
- Pushing boundaries to pay to play polo, by Jorn
Madslien, BBC News
- Polo comes back home to Iran, by Frances Harrison,
- Information and news about polo
clips of polo matches from around the world
- LivingPolo.com, your daily update on what happens in world