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HorseShowCentral > Riding Styles & Disciplines > Polo

Polo - Riding Styles & Disciplines

Two Polo Ponies and riders on the playing field. Polo Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

The earliest references to Polo appears in the history of Alexander the Great although the game does seem to have been played in various forms all over the East, especially in China and Mongolia and also in Japan where a form of it called da-kyu was adopted. In so many countries, it was a part of equestrian and military training.


In Persia, there are paintings from the 16th century showing polo as an aristocratic game played by kings , courtiers and also by women as co-ed discipline from earliest times. While in India, Polo came with the Moslem invaders In Persia and the was called chaugan (mallet), but the present name derives from the Tibetan polo (root) from which the ball was and is, still made.

Polo made no impact on the West until British planters discovered it in Assam in the 1850’s, where it was played on local Manipuri ponies. Silchar, capital of the district of Cachar, has the honor of being the birthplace of modern polo and the Silchar Club, founded in 1859 is the oldest in the world. The founding members drew up rules which were the foundation of the present ones.

Nine players made the original team, later reduced to 7, and finally as the ponies became bigger and faster, to 4. The original Manipuri ponies on which the Englishmen played were barely 12 hands in height. Rules for the height of ponies changed through the years until now there are no height restrictions, yet 15.1 hands seems to be the norm.

In 1869, hockey on horseback was played on Hounslow Heath near London and was an instant success. In 1875 the Hurlingham Club Polo Committee issued the first English Rules. The Indian Polo Association was formed about the same time. The first Inter-Regimental Tournament was played in 1878 and in 1893 the National Pony Society was founded to promote the breeding of Polo Ponies. The discipline sport of polo quickly spread to the rest of the world and International games began in 1886.


Apart from the ponies, requirements for the game are the ground, goal posts, sticks or mallets, and the rider’s own wear. The length of the ground must not exceed 300 yards and the goals must not be less than 150 yards apart and 8 yard wide. The width is 200 yards. The goal posts are at least 10 feet high, of light, easily breakable material. The ball has a diameter of not more than 3 inches and weights 4 ounces. The polo stick is a cane of varying degrees of whippiness, 48 to 54 inches long, according to individual players needs.

The ball is hit with the center of the long side of the head of the stick. The grip is held by the fingers and thumb rather than by the whole palm. Sticks are liable to break in the stress of a game, so six to twelve are kep.t

The first thing a polo player must learn is to hit the ball accurately and correctly at all angles. The strokes are: off-side forward, off-side backhand, off-side under the pony’s neck, near-side forward, near-side backhand, near-side under the pony’s neck, also off-side and near-side back shots under the pony’s tail. Other effective shots are the push, and lateral, underneath the ponies body and between his legs.


Polo is played in periods (chakkar, Urdu for circuit), of 7-1/2 minutes each. The interval between chukkars is 3 minutes with a 5 minute break at half time. Except for the last chukkar, play continues after the signal for the end of the period until the ball goes out of play or into a neutral position on the ground. So the last chukkar is usually a short one, since the total time allotted fro play must not be exceeded

If sides are not even at the end of the last chukkar play goes on until a goal is scored or the ball goes out of play (in which case an extra chukkar is played with widened goals until a goal is scored). Every time a goal is scored the teams change ends. A team consists of 2 Forwards, one Half-back and one Back.

Most polo games are played on a handicap basis, all players being assessed at their worth in goals of minus goals, with a range of minus 2 to 10, which is based on the assumption , although now seldom true, that matches will be 8 chukkars. I handicap tournaments, the total individual handicaps are added up, one subtracted from the other, the balance being the number of goals start given to the lower handicapped team by the higher (halved in a 4 chukkar match, adjusted proportionately for longer matches).

The rules of polo are devised to ensure safely in a very fast moving game, so they mostly clarify the right of possession of the ball, ascribing penalties for infringing that right and causing danger. The game is stopped if any horse falls, or is lame, if player or rider is injured, if there is a potentially dangerous accident to the pony’s gear, of if a player loses his headgear, and if the ball goes out of play.


The most desirable qualities for a player are courage, coolness, and aptitude for ball games. Polo is basically a team game in which all the members cooperate in plans and maneuvers to get the ball in to the enemy’s goal.

Horsemanship is not really an essential quality; basic horsemanship, good balance and ability to stick on are the necessary attributes. Not all of the top players of the world have been outstanding horsemen.

A good natural eye for a moving ball is the thing. The need for courage and cool judgment in a game played at a speed of 20 to 30 miles per hour, goes without saying. The requirements of the horse are speed, agility, courage and willingness. Polo is an exacting albeit exciting game of global popularity.

Polo teams competing on the field with referee.

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