Last updated: April 8, 2022
In a polo match, the players often ride multiple horses in a single game. While watching a polo match, I noticed one player seemed to swap horses every few minutes. This player’s use of horses made me wonder about polo’s rules and how horses are used during a match.
Polo players typically use 1-3 horses for regular play. In high-caliber professional tournaments, it’s not uncommon for a player to use as many as eight horses during a game. Swapping horses during a game ensures horses are fresh and energetic.
Unless you’re a fan or participant in polo, you may not know all Polo’s rules or strategies. So today, I’m going to cover one of the most critical aspects of the game, the horses.
Are you just now getting interested in polo? The game has been around for millennia. After centuries of being sidelined as a sport for kings and idle millionaires, it is now gaining new fans. Polo is played by two opposing teams on horseback trying to score points by hitting a ball between goal posts at either end of a pitch (the playing area).
Whether played in a field or arena, polo follows the same rules, with each team member positioned strategically on the field to facilitate the ball’s movement toward the opposing teams’ goal. Field polo allows players more freedom to move the ball; however, arena polo is played in a tighter space that also requires clever maneuvering.
How are the players arranged?
A polo team consists of four players, each wearing a shirt with a number ranging from 1-4. Each of these players is assigned a specific position in the field to help create the most successful alignment for the attack. Here’s how the players and their ponies are arranged:
- Player 1: These players have the task of providing offense for the team and being at the forefront. They create the chances to score by working with the second player on the team. This position is also used to cover the opposing team’s number four, where the team’s least experienced person sometimes plays.
- Player 2: As the player closest to the offensive striker, it is their job to supply the ball when play is started, and they have the option to pass the ball or choose to run on their own and score points without passing to number one if conditions allow. Number two is a difficult position to play because it involves many different elements within a game. As a result, the position is reserved for a more experienced player.
- Player 3: This is the team captain responsible for managing their team’s game plan and organizing players on the field to maximize goal attempts. They need to hit long shots to pass the ball on to numbers 1 and 2, but more importantly, they have to read the game and come up with different attacking and defending strategies on the fly.
- Player 4: This is the goal defender and the primary defense for the team overall. They are tasked with preventing attacking opponents from reaching the goal and will adjust their position and movements to make it more difficult for opponents to find an opening. By playing defense, number four makes it possible for number 3 to look for more opportunities on the field without exposing their own goal.
More about how many horses do polo players use?
Polo players must each have at least two ponies to play in a match. It allows them to rest one horse in between chukkers, especially in high-goal games.
Players may have two or three ponies ready to play in a low-goal match, but when it comes to the highest polo competitions, players can have as many as eight ponies, one for each chukker, to make sure their horses perform at the highest level throughout the game.
The game is played right-handed as a way to reduce the chances of head-on collisions. Aside from having at least two ponies per game, polo players are also required to have the following gear:
- A polo helmet with a faceguard
- A mallet and ball
- Polo boots
- Saddle for the pony
This equipment is standard for all versions of horse polo and is required when practicing and in matches. The game’s actual rules may shift depending on who’s playing and the hosting authority, but the purpose is always to ensure polo players’ safety.
What are polo ponies?
The mounts used in polo are called polo ponies, though the term has been handed down through tradition. The horses are full-sized and can range in size from 60-64 inches in shoulder height and weigh up to 1,100 pounds.
Polo players choose their polo ponies from the highest quality horse breeds, and they are chosen for their speed, stamina, and maneuverability. It is also crucial that a polo pony have a good temperament, allowing easier bonding with the rider.
Ponies need to stay responsive even in high-stress situations or during the most intense parts of the game. To ensure this, trainers begin working on their horses from as young as two years. The horses are trained to know what’s going on in the field. At the same time, they keep track of how the game is unfolding and stay conscious of other horses and players.
Are racehorses used to play polo?
A lot of polo players use thoroughbreds because of their reliability and stamina. They can be trained to be handled using just one hand on the reigns; and will usually respond quickly to changes in the field, making it possible for the player to work with their horse as if they were a single entity.
The best-trained horses carry their rider comfortably and make fluid movements on the field, helping the rider score points when other players create opportunities.
People can train racehorses to play polo, but this isn’t typically the case. Players and trainers prefer to start training a horse while young and put it in play by 5. This way, the horse can put in years of service before it retires. Training also involves creating a bond between a rider and their horse, which can take years.
Polo is now played professionally in countries all across Europe, South America, Asia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Polo is active in over 70 countries worldwide, with tournaments held each year to determine the best teams.
Major tournaments include the Albierto de Tortugas, and Abierto Argentino de Polo, both in Argentina. In the U.S., the United States Polo Association is the largest governing body for the sport, with a different governing body for women’s polo.
1. Is Horse Polo Cruel?
Polo ponies are some of the most pampered horses in sport. At any given game, a horse will play for a few minutes per “chukker” and then put aside to rest until another chukker is played using a different horse.
Trainers are highly conscious of their horses’ well-being and will go to great lengths to keep them comfortable – including providing the most amicable living conditions, food, and grooming. You can learn more about the treatment of polo horses in this article: Is Polo A Cruel Sport? 5 Facts About the Game?
2. Do I Need A Horse To Play Polo?
Amateur players don’t typically require a horse, as they are provided at most polo clubs at a fee. However, you will need to purchase and train your pony to get into the higher competition levels. Horses are kept at clubs, where they are taken care of by paid employees. Club members pay top dollar to have their horses kept in excellent condition.
3. Are Polo Ponies Expensive?
The cost of purchasing a top-breed pony is steep; however, you can buy a fully-grown pony for prices ranging from $20,000- $50,000 depending on the breed, age, training, and overall condition pony. Polo ponies have sold for a lot more money when wealthy patrons put together a team for high-goal competitions.
- Featured photo by Milena de Narvaez Ayllon from Pexels
- Polo, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polo, Accessed 06/03/2021.
- Polo Pony, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polo_pony, Accessed 06/03/2021.
- Five Steps To The Perfect Polo Player, Gentleman’s Journal, https://www.thegentlemansjournal.com/sport-five-steps-to-the-perfect-polo-player/, Accessed 06/03/2021.
Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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