What Is Equestrian Polo & How Do You Play It?
Know nothing about the equestrian sport of polo, favoured by the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge? Then this one’s for you…
The Basic Set-Up Of Polo
A standard game of field polo is played by two teams, with four players per team, each riding a polo pony. It is played on a field measuring 300 by 160 yards, equalling ten acres or roughly ten football fields. Polo players traditionally wear “polo whites” and a shirt of the colour of their team. At each end of the field are two tall goalposts, set eight yards apart. Players each carry a mallet – a long stick with a hammer-like head – in their right hand, used to hit the ball and obscure the opposing team.
The aim of the game is to be the team to score the most goals, achieved by hitting the ball through the goalposts.
Polo games are divided into shorter periods of time, called chukkas. Each chukka lasts seven minutes and, dependent on the rules of the particular tournament or league within which the game sits, there are four, six or eight chukkas per game. Between each chukka is a three-minute break, and there is also a half-time break of fifteen minutes. In total, a typical match lasts one and a half hours. After each chukka or score, the teams switch ends of the field, in order to compensate for field and wind conditions.
In high-performance games the players change to fresh ponies after each chukka, or alternate between two polo ponies.
Along with trying to score the most goals, polo players are always trying to reduce the number of goals that their opponents score. Players can hinder their opponents with the mallet, by either blocking the opponents shot, or by hooking their mallet around that of their opponent, to prevent them from, or interfere with them, swinging and hitting the ball.
The other defence technique is called a bump or ride-off. Similar to a shoulder in football, this move involves riding next to an opponent in order to push him off course. There are a number of rules surrounding this defensive tactic, in order to maintain a safe environment for both polo players and ponies. Most notably, the angle of attack must be less than 45 degrees, and the contact is intended to be between the ponies, not the players.
While left-handed players are not prevented from playing polo, all games of the equestrian sport must be played with the mallet in the right hand, for reasons of safety. With players often riding head-on towards each other in pursuit of the ball, if a right-handed player were to approach a left-handed player – with their mallets in the opposite hands – there would be a big risk of a head-on collision. So that is why all polo players use solely their right hand.
And there you have it!