A Quick Guide to Polo for the Uninitiated by: Emily Hurst

Posted on Jun, 5th, 2018

Polo is not a common sport in Toronto (all the more reason to come to Polo for Heart) and that is why we’ve decided to give you a quick guide to polo so even the most uninitiated fan can get some enjoyment of the out of a day spent watching the Game of Kings at Canada’s largest and longest running charity polo match.


What better place to start our quick guide to polo than with brief history (though the history of polo is anything but brief) and the story of where it all began.

The sport originated in central Asia somewhere between the 6th century BC and 1st century A.D. It spread rapidly through Asia before it was discovered in India by the British. It was used primarily as a leisure activity and cavalry training exercise by British soldiers. The British soldiers brought it back to England where it became popular with huge spectator matches being held as early as 1875. Polo hopped across the pond soon after it arrived in England with evidence of matches being held as early as 1876. In the 1920’s and 30’s the English introduced the sport to Argentina. Thanks to the climate and Argentine’s horsemanship the sport became incredibly popular and before long the Argentines were beating the English at their own game. Since then Argentina has been the home of modern polo laying claim to some of the world’s best players, ponies, fields and tournaments.

Fast Facts:

-          Polo ponies can reach speeds of 30 miles an hour when playing

-          The field is approximately 10 acres, or the size of nine football fields

-          A chukker is the word used for a period in polo, in Toronto four chukkers are played with each chukker lasting 7 minutes and 30 seconds

-          The traditional divot stomp at half time isn’t just for show, it really does help repair the field at halftime

-          Famous Players throughout history include (but aren’t limited to) Will Rogers, Clark Gable, Walt Disney, Winston Churchill, Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Lee Jones, and Princes William and Harry

-          Today, Polo is played in over 50 countries worldwide

-          Some of the world’s top polo players have started cloning their ponies and the world number one player, Adolfo Cambiaso, played clones of his pony, Cuartetera, in every chukker of the Argentine Open last year

Player Facts:

Players are given a handicap between -2 to 10 with -2 being the most beginner and +10 being the best in the world. The ratings are based on a variety of factors including riding ability, hitting ability, understanding of the game, quality of horses, and sportsmanship. A player’s equipment consists of tall leather polo boots, white jeans, kneepads, a jersey with the player’s number on it, a helmet with either glasses or a face cage, gloves, and elbow pads (which are optional). Another key component to player’s equipment is the mallet; players use a mallet made from a bamboo and hardwood with lengths ranging between 49 and 54 inches. There are four positions in polo and the numbers on the jerseys coordinate to the field position the player plays. Number one plays forward, their goal is always to be open for a pass from their teammates and to run it down to the goal when that pass comes through, they are also in charge of defending against the opposing team’s key defensive player. Number two is the second offensive player they backup the number one in case of a miss or successful defensive play from the other team, they also defend against the opposing team’s number three or captain. Number three is the effective the captain of the team in charge of both sending long passes up to the number one and two of the team and aiding the team’s number four in defense. The number four is the ‘back’ or defensive player on the team responsible for protecting the goal and defending against the opposing number one.

Polo Ponies:

Despite being called ‘ponies’ polo ponies are actually horses ranging in height between 14 and 16 hands. Polo ponies must be able to demonstrate quick bursts of speed, stamina to last a maximum of two chukkers (14 minutes’ total, or approximately 7 minutes each), ability to stop on a dime and maneuverability. Their temperament is key as they must be able to remain responsive in the pressure of the game and not get overwhelmed, too excited or difficult to control; polo players call this a ‘mind’ for the game. Polo ponies are usually either thoroughbreds (sometimes off the track) or thoroughbred crosses, the most common cross being an Argentine polo pony which is a thoroughbred crossed with an argentine working horse also known as a criollo

Spectating Tips:

Polo did not originate as a spectator sport, and while today it’s developing a following around the world as a spectator sport there are a few tips that experienced spectators know that greatly improve their enjoyment of the game. Know your favourite player’s helmet colours so you can spot them on the field. Teams switch ends after every goal scored so make sure you’re paying attention so you know who is going which way. The game starts with a throw-in in the centre of the field where the two times line up facing each other as the ball is bowled into the middle of the two teams and they battle it out to gain possession of the ball. Don’t get too caught up in the rules and fouls (even players sometimes get lost in the rulebook) but instead enjoy the display of horsepower and human-equine teamwork. 

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