Watching and Understanding Polo
How big is the field?
Our field is 180 yards wide and 300 yards long. The goals are 24 feet wide. 9 football fields fit on one polo field!!!
What kind of horses are polo horses?
Most polo horses are thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses because they are the ones with the speed, stamina and athleticism we need.
They range in size from 15-16 hands.
Many polo horses had previous careers as race horses and get a second career as a polo horse.
Often young prospects are started at 3 years or so and over the next couple of years are trained to be polo horses.
The training involves teaching the horse to be handy, obedient, willing and competitive.
They must become accustomed to close contact with other horses, the mallet and ball. Good polo horse are brave and confident.
Horses really like the game because it is about the only one in which horses get to play in a herd setting.
Many polo horses are ready for competitive polo by the time they are 6 or so and will play fast polo for 10 years or more.
After that many go on to play well into their twenties as beginner mounts.
What about the gear for horses and riders?
The horses wear protective leg wraps to protect them from errant balls or mallets although they rarely get hit.
The players wear helmets and eye protectin from a cage or goggles, boots, and knee pads .
Polo saddles are a rugged, flat style English type saddle that allows for maximum player mobility in the seat.
Bridles have double reins for more accurate control of the horse and to provide a safety rein.
A standing martingale is used to protect the riders face in case the horse suddenly raises his head at t time when the player is up over the horse's head taking a shot.
The mallets are made out of bamboo handles with a hardwood head. The ball is struck with the SIDE OF THE MALLET---NOT THE END.
With the horse going 30 mph a strong hitter can hit the ball 150 yards at over 100 mph!
How long is a game?
A game will have 4-6 periods called chukers depending on the level of competition.
Each chucker lasts 7 -1/2 minutes with stoppages in play for penalties, so each chucker will last 8-10 minutes.
The game begins with one of two mounted umpires bowling the ball in between 4 players on each side of the center line.
Play continues until a penalty is called or a goal is scored.
The clock does not stop when a goal is scored or if the ball goes out of bounds--only when a penalty is called.
After a goal is scored the teams gallop quickly back to center for a throw in.
AFTER EACH GOAL, TEAMS SWITCH SIDES TO EQUALIZE FOR WIND OR FIELD CONDITIONS.
When a penalty is called, play is stopped and the team who was fouled is given a free hit with no defending player being closer than 30 yards to the hitter.
Penalty hits may be awarded from the point of infraction or from the 30, 40 or 60 yard line if the penalty happens in close to the goal.
What about rules?
Actually there are not very many rules. The rules are first and foremost there to protect the horses, secondly the players,
and then to allow for a fair and organized contest.
Basically, polo is meant to be played up and down the field with the obvious intent to score in the goal at the end of the field.
All players must carry the mallet in their right hand although the ball may be hit on either side or front or back of the horse----
you just cannot change hands. A concept called THE LINE OF THE BALL is an imaginary line the ball would make in the grass along
where it came from and where it is going.
It establishes the direction of the flow of play. Think of it like the center line on a highway. A player parellel to the line of the ball and the ball on his right side
(off side) is in a safe position
(called the right of way) and can ride along beside the ball and hit it on the right side of the horse. It can be hit any direction and then a new line is created.
It is kind of like driving a motorcycle in England on the "wrong" side of the road with the white line on the right. Put simply, no other player may enter
the right of way created by the line of the ball at an unsafe distance.
Just like if you were riding your motorcycle along and someone came at you at a bad angle, or cut you off, or cut in too close in front, there could be a crash.
This does not mean that someone established on the LINE OF THE BALL can just keep going on unbothered.
To stop someone with the ball, the defender can ride parallel and on the left side of the right of way and either hook the other guy's mallet
to ruin his hit or may take the ball for him/herself as long as he does not endanger the other horse.
REMEMBER this may all be going on at 30 mph.
The second way to stop a player carrying the ball is to RIDE HIM OFF. This is the biggest part of the defensive game.
To do this, the defending player rides his horse such that it pushes the other guy's horse sideways so the ball now becomes free for the defender to take the ball.
A RIDEOFF must be done safely. That means it must be done at a safe angle and a speed equal to the other guy's horse.
Think of it like two cars "MERGING AGRESSIVELY" ---
they are not crashing but rather engaging with the intent of pushing the other guy out of the play. A RIDEOFF can be done from either side.
Opposing players can meet the ball just a long as they are both safely on opposite sides of the line--if they were not there would be a head on collision.
Most fouls are the result of line crossing infractions. They occur usually through errors in judgement or overzealous play, but the better the players
understand the game the fewer fouls occur and the better the game flows.
There are also rules designed to control the play to make it fair and fun. Other rules specifically address safety concerns for the horses.
What is as player handicap?
It does not mean the player is somehow challenged! You may be familiar with golf handicaps. It is similar.
Club rating committees assign players with a HANDICAP according to the players ability.
Handicaps start at -2 for beginners and the best professionals in the world have a 10 goal rating.
That does not mean the guy is expected to score 10 goals /game but rather is like saying someone is a 10 star player.
Ther reason the word "GOAL" is used is that game scores are measured in goals. It is all designes to keep games competitive.
I will explain. Let us say a tournament is being held for teams of a 4-6 goal caliber.
That means that the sum of the handicaps of the four players on each team must around 4-6 goals.
So if TEAM A had players with handicaps of 0,3,2 and 1 it would be a 6- goal team. If TEAM B players were rated 1,2,1 and 0 they would be a 4-goal team.
in this example, TEAM B would be given TWO GOALS ON THE SCOREBOARD BEFORE THE GAME STARTED. This is all designed to keep the games more compeitive.