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The Horse

The horses are called polo ponies, even though the horses range from 14.2 to 16 hands at the wither (one hand equals four inches) and weigh 900 to 1,200 lbs. Polo ponies are selected carefully for great speed and stamina, similar to the thoroughbreds at racetracks, as well as agility and maneuverability, similar to the cow ponies used on ranches. When one can combine these traits and train the horse to carry its rider both smoothly and swiftly to the ball, the horse can account for anywhere from 70% to 80% of a player’s ability and worth to its team.

The player

Each team consists of four players and their ponies. Number 1 is the player expected to score goals. Number 2 is also an offensive player, but he/she has to be more aggressive since his/her objective is also to break up the opposing team’s offensive plays. Number 3 is the pivot, similar to a quarterback in a football team; this player usually hits the penalty shots and throw-ins. Number 4, or back, is the defensive player, usually the most conservative player, whose job is to guard the goals and keep the opposing team from scoring.

The field

The field is 300 yards long by 160 yards wide, the approximate area of nine football fields. The playing field is carefully maintained with closely mowed turf providing a safe, fast playing surface. Goals are posts eight yards apart at each end of the field.

The equipment

The mallets are made of bamboo canes that provide flexibility. As for the tapered mallet heads, they are made of willow or maple. Mallets come in lengths of 49 to 53 inches and selection is made according to the height of the pony being played. The ball is struck with the side of the mallet.

Made of rigid plastic, the polo ball has a 3.5-inch diameter and weighs approximately 4.5 ounces. All players must wear protection helmets, as well as leather knee guards. The ponies are provided with protective bandages on all four legs. Tails are braided and taped to minimize interference in making the various shots.

Play begins when the mounted umpire bowls the ball between the players who line up opposite each other in centre field. The game consists of four to six 7 1/2-minute periods, called CHUKKERS, during which players may change mounts. There is a 4-minute interval between periods and a 10-minute halftime. Play is continuous and is only stopped for penalties, broken tack or injury. The object is to score goals by getting 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 end line, thus getting the ball back into play. Teams change goals on ends of the field after each score to minimize any wind or sun advantage that may exist. There are two mounted umpires who officiate the game while a referee on the sidelines makes all the final decisions concerning penalties or infractions to the rules.


Regional and national handicap committees of the US Polo Association rate each player on a scale from -2 to 10 goals. Player handicaps are based on horsemanship, team play, hitting and playmaking skills, as well as overall knowledge of the game and its rules. The rating given to players is termed in goals. For instance, if four 3 -goal players form a 12 goal team who play a 10 goal team, a 2 -goal advantage would be credited to the weaker team at the start of the game. The term goal is a player’s rating and is not to be confused with the number of goals he/she will score in a match. There are currently less than twenty 10 goal players in the world of polo.

  • Bump: A player is permitted to ride into another player so as to spoil his shot. The angle of collision must be slight causing no more than a jar. The faster the horse travels, the smaller the angle must be. A good bump can shake your dentures loose.
  • Chukker: Also called a period. There are 4 or 6 chukkers in polo game (4 in arena polo) each leasing 7 1/2 minutes plus up to 30 seconds in overtime. If during the last 30 seconds the ball bits the sideboards or goes under or goes out of bounds, or if the umpire blows his whistle, the chukker is over. There is no overtime at the end of the sixth chukker unless the score is tied. A player returns each chukker on a different horse, although he may rest one for a chukker and play him again.
  • Goal: Any time a ball crosses the line between the goalposts, it is considered a goal regardless of whether a horse or a mallet causes the ball to go through. In order to equalize wind and turf conditions, the teams change sides after every goal scored.
  • Handicaps: All registered players are rated on a scale of -2 to 10 (the higher the better). Although the word “goal” is often used after the digit, it bears no relation to the number of goals a player might score – only his ability. The handicap of the team is the sum total rating of its players and in handicap matches the team with the higher handicap gives the difference in ratings to the other team. For example, a 6- goal team will give two goals to a 4-goal team.
  • Hook: A player may spoil another’s shot by putting his mallet in the way of the striking player. A cross hook occurs when a player reaches over his opponent’s mount in an attempts to hook; this is considered a foul.
  • Knock-in: Should a team, in an offensive drive, hit the ball across the opponent’s back-line, the defending team resumes the game with a free hit from the back-line. No time-out is allowed for knock-ins.
  • Mallet: Also known as a stick. The shaft is made from a bamboo shoot and the head from either the bamboo root or a hard wood such as maple. These vary in length from 49 to 53 inches and are flexible in comparison to a golf club or hockey stick.
  • Near-side: The left-hand side of a horse.
  • Neck shot: A ball that is hit under the horse’s neck from either side.
  • Off-side: The right-hand side of a horse.
  • Out-of-bounds: When a ball crosses the sidelines or goes over sideboards, it is considered out of bounds and the umpire throws in another balL between the two teams at that point. No time-out is allowed for an out-of-bounds ball.
  • Penalty: Numbers 1 to 6 identifies these:
    1. An automatic goal
    2. A free hit from 30 yards to an undefended goal
    3. A free hit from 40 yards to an undefended goal
    4. A free hit from 60 yards to a defended goal
    5. A free hit from the point of the infraction or from midfield
    6. Safety
  • Positions: Each of the four-team members plays a distinctly different position. Since polo is such a fluid game, the player may momentarily change positions, but will try and return to their initial assignment.
    No. 1 is the most forward offensive player.
    No. 2 is just as offensive but plays deeper and works harder.
    No. 3 is the pivot player between offence and defense and tries to turn all plays to offence.
    No. 4, or the Back, is the defensive player whose role is principally to protect the goal.
  • Ride-Off: This occurs when two riders make contact and attempt to push each other off the line of the ball so as to prevent the other from striking. The horses are the ones intended to do the pushing, although a player may use his body as well, but not his elbows.
  • Safety: Penalty 6. When a defending player hits the ball across his own backline, the other team is awarded a free 60 yards from the backline with the ball placed at the same distance from the sideline as when it went out.
  • Tailshot: Hitting the ball behind and across the horse’s rump.
  • Third Man: The referee sitting at the sidelines. If and when the two umpires on the field are in disagreement, the third man makes the final decision.
  • Throw-in: A chukker begins and many plays resume with the umpire bowling the ball between the two ready teams.
  • Time-Out: An umpire calls time-out when a foul is committed, an accident occurs or at his own discretion. A player may only call time-out if he has broken tack or is injured. No time-out allowed for changing horses or replacing a broken mallet, although a player may do so at any time.
  • Umpires: Two mounted umpires (one for each side of the field) consult each other after an infringement and impose a penalty only if they agree. If they do not agree they ride to the sidelines to confer with the third man.

Source: Club de Polo Nacional

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