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.
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 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 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.
Source: Club de Polo Nacional