One of my favorite movies, that I never tire of watching is Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. There are a number of scenes worthy of comment including the shopping on Rodeo Drive, the sports cars, the hotel, and the polo match. The polo scene in the movie showed everyone dressed up for a charity event at a polo match. Julia Roberts was wearing a sleeveless brown polka dot dress and a lovely hat. You don’t need to get dressed up to go watch polo. I went to my first polo match in casual summer attire. I may have also been wearing a ball cap.
Polo has been around as early as 500 BC when it was played by Persian noblemen. The Indian army introduced polo to the Western world and the 19th century British cavalry officers refined the game.
Polo is really about the horse or polo pony. Most ponies are about three quarters thoroughbred of needing stamina, speed and the disposition for polo. If you don’t have a good horse to play polo, you will be left behind the others while chasing the ball. The original American polo pony was limited to 14.2 hands and was developed from the cutting horses used by ranchers. Today’s pony doesn’t have a height restriction but usually averages 15 to 16 hands. The average age of a playing pony is nine years old but they can also play well into their teens.
Polo consists of two teams that play against each other. Whoever scores the most goals wins. Each team has four players who play certain positions. Position one plays offense and stays up front to get the passes and score the goals. Position two plays defense and offense and goes back and forth. This player needs to be fast and aggressive. Position three is like the quarterback. This person stays more behind and figures out the strategy. Position four plays defense and tries to stop position one of the opposing team from scoring goals. Finally the captain of the team can be any one of these four players How you tell which person is playing which position is by the number on the back of their shirt. The game I watched had two referees on horseback and they will blow a whistle if anyone commits a foul. A foul can be called for a variety of reasons.
Each player has a handicap and it is given to them by one of the professional associations. You are ranked on control of your horse, how well you hit the ball, how well you play. The higher the handicap you have, the better the player you are. The games can be described as low, medium and high goal polo. The high goal games would have better players and horses.
As you can see from the pictures, the ball is hit with a mallet in order to move it down the field. These horse and riders can be going pretty fast. They also have a lot of ground to cover as the playing filed is 300 yards long by 160 yards wide. This is the approximate area of nine American football fields.
Polo is different than hockey or football where you change sides after each period or quarter. Every time a goal is scored they change sides. The periods or quarters are called chukkers and each one is usually seven minutes. Depending on location, a game can have four or six chukkers. Furthermore, the horses are changed after each chukker. Three minutes are allowed for changing your horse. Horses need to be changed after each chukker as they can cover a lot of ground. Sometimes the horses can cover three miles in each chukker. In high goal polo most players takes 10 horses to each game while lower goal polo will require less mounts as the game is played a bit slower.
If any of you get a chance to watch a polo game, do so as it is quite enjoyable. I enjoyed watching the game, the horsemanship, being outdoors, the pace of the game and the skill needed to score the goals.