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While watching a polo match, I was amazed at the athletic ability and tenacity of the horses. Although the horses possessed similar skills, it was apparent that they were different breeds, which made me wonder what horses can be used to play polo?
Horses used in polo are called polo ponies, and the four primary horse breeds used during polo matches are Thoroughbred, Argentine Polo Pony, Thoroughbred-Quarter cross, and the Manipuri Breed. All are fast and agile, both traits needed for the sport.
Polo is the earliest equestrian team sport, and horses have been selectively bred through generations to create the best genetic match for a game that requires speed, endurance, and agility.
But how much do you know about polo horses – and what is it that makes one breed better suited for the game? This article covers the different horse breeds used in polo and answers all the questions you have about polo ponies.
What Are The Different Polo Pony Breeds?
Polo is played in both amateur and professional forms using different types of polo ponies. In the U.S., the most common breeds are thoroughbreds and quarter horses.
The term “polo pony” is used to describe any breed of horses used to play polo, but not a breed in itself. A polo pony must be fast and agile on the field, and even though they are called ponies, they are technically full-sized horses capable of outstanding athletic performance.
Thoroughbreds are known for their power, speed, and agility, and they make the best polo ponies compared to criollo and quarter horses. Here’s a list of the most popular polo pony breeds:
1. Thoroughbred Polo Horses
Thoroughbreds are strong and versatile breeds that are most commonly used in the United States. Polo horses tend to be crossbreeds of different horses – and in the U.S., most polo horses are about 75% thoroughbred.
The thoroughbred is built for speed and has strong hindquarters that allow it to run fast for long durations. Thanks to breeding years, today’s thoroughbred has both speed and stamina and can easily sustain high performance through a polo match.
2. Argentine Polo Pony
The Argentinian is a cross between a thoroughbred and an Argentinian breed known as criollo. Criollos are essentially working cow horses with a remarkably agile body and are valued for this ability.
Thoroughbreds are bred with criollos to create a horse with more endurance, and this crossbreed is known as Argentine polo pony or Argentine-Anglo.
3. Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse Cross (Appendix)
The offspring of Thoroughbred and quarter horse crosses are called “appendix” horses, and they excel in many equine sports. These horses combine the speed and endurance of Thoroughbreds with the power and quickness of a quarterhorse.
The result is an outstanding polo pony which is why in the U.S., most polo ponies are “appendix bred.” They also make great horses for barrel racing and working ranch horses.
But their physical strength and speed are ideal for polo games, where the agility and limber physique allow them to make quick turns and achieve rapid acceleration.
4. Manipuri Breed
The Manipuri breed originated in Manipuri, India, and is known as one of the original polo horses – and one of the most prestigious horses in the region.
These horses were initially used in warfare as members of the military cavalries, but they later became a popular breed for sporting; and, more specifically, for use in polo.
Manipuri breeds typically stand between 11 to 13 hands (44 to 52 inches, 112 to 132 cm) have a short back and powerful hindquarters. Because they are so short, polo players often use mallets with shortened shafts when riding them.
What Makes a Horse Breed Good For Polo?
You can’t use just any kind of horse for polo. The horse must display great physical attributes, including speed and endurance, but more than that, there has to be a sense of intelligence and ability to work with the rider.
The legs must be strong enough to carry a rider at full speed and turn or come to a complete stop from maximum speed. It takes months and sometimes years of training to get a horse ready for polo.
A common trait of polo ponies is strong hindquarters which give horses explosiveness and speed on the playing field. The strength in the hindquarters of Thoroughbred makes them a favorite of polo players.
The cross between a quarter horse and thoroughbred makes for a sturdy horse with endurance and agility. They make quick turns, and this comes in handy in a polo pitch.
Are Polo Ponies Male or Female?
The majority of polo ponies are mares. They are preferred over gelded males and stallions for their softer temperament, ideal for trainers who need to get them polo-ready within a reasonable timeframe.
Riders also find that mares are easier to work with, but this hasn’t been proven by science, even though many lifelong polo enthusiasts insist on it.
The reality is that mares are good for business because you can also use them for breeding – and polo players are known to get some of their income from breeding horses.
They often sell their colts and keep the fillies to use in breeding farms. But since it’s so crucial for polo players to use a horse with a good temperament, and mares are regarded as being a better fit in that regard, most polo clubs will use them as polo ponies.
That being said, males are still used in polo, just not as much as mares.
How Long Does It Take To Train A Polo Pony?
Polo ponies begin their training between 2-4 years old, and it goes on for anywhere between six months to two years. Before training under saddle begins, a horse has to mature physically to bear a rider’s weight.
Horses are considered fully mature by five years old, so the training begins when they are still young enough to learn all the tricks, and also so that they can get involved in the game for longer and while they have the energy.
Polo ponies reach their peak at ages 6-7, but some horses play into their twenties if they don’t suffer significant injuries.
In polo, much of the performance is determined by how well-trained the horse is. And despite how skilled a rider is, the horse will account for about 70% of the action.
This fact means that trainers and players must invest a great deal in training their horses, caring for them, and making sure that they can handle making swift and smooth movements to allow the player to hit the ball more accurately.
Polo ponies are some of the finest horses in sport, and they are fed an adequate feed, if not the best, and provided bedding that is very comfortable by animal standards. This way, the horses can provide the best performance for both players and spectators to enjoy the game.
1. What Is A Polo Horse?
Polo ponies are some of the best athletes in the equine sports world. And they get treated like it; they are fed an exact diet, provided the best bedding for their stalls, and get frequent veterinarian exams.
By providing the optimal conditions, the horses give players and spectators their very best performance on the field.
2. How Tall Is A Polo Pony?
Polo ponies differ in size and height, but in general, a modern horse measures 64 inches in height, but some can be taller.
3. How Many Horses Are Used In A Polo Team?
According to the U.S. Polo Association, two teams on the pitch with four players on each side and six chukkers will total 48 horses. If you include a couple of horses for each umpire and two umpires per game, that’s 52 horses total.
4. What Size Are Polo Horses?
On average, a polo pony measures 13-15 hands in height (132cm or 52 inches), but it’s possible to see horses taller or shorter than this in polo.
5. Why Are Polo Horse’s Tails Braided?
Polo ponies have their tails plaited up before a match so that they don’t end up tied up in a polo mallet during a game. They also have their manes hogged, and sometimes their dock trimmed or shaved.
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- Featured image by Iatya Prunkova via Pixabay
- Polo Pony, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polo_pony, Accessed 2/03/2021.
- Polo Terms, Tutorialspoint, https://www.tutorialspoint.com/polo/polo_terms.htm, Accessed 02/03/2021.
- Horse Polo The Sport, TopEndSport, https://www.topendsports.com/sport/list/polo-horse.htm, Accessed 02/03/2021.
- Polo Wraps, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polo_wraps, Accessed 02/03/2021.