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Monday, August 25, 2014

Polo 101 Frequently Asked Questions

After a weekend abroad and of course winding down with a bit of Polo...I though I'd take the opportunity to answer some of the questions that those who found out about my little hobbies started asking. Not to give myself all the credit. I was trained at Traditional Equitation School in Burbank and of course credit the question and answers below to the Empire Polo Club. 


How many polo players are on a team?

There are four players per team in outdoor polo (also referred to as grass polo). There are three players per team in indoor polo (includes arena, snow and beach polo).

Can you use the same horse for an entire game?

No. Polo ponies run the equivalent of one to two miles during a seven-and-a-half-minute chukker, so they must be rested frequently. At the high-goal level, players ideally will have a fresh horse every period although many will “double” on their best ponies. Most players agree that the polo “pony” represents 70-80% of a player’s game.

Why are the polo horses manes clipped and tails tied?

Free flowing manes and tails are a danger in polo because they can become entangled with players’ mallets or with the reins as the rider tries to control his horse. Manes, therefore, are shaved and the ponies’ tails are wrapped or braided to prevent the hazard.

What breed of horse is most often used in Polo?

Thoroughbred horses are the most common breed used in polo. The characteristics of the thoroughbred, which make it so ideal for the game, are that it has more stamina, goes farther, faster, and has a better disposition for polo.

Why are they called “Polo Ponies”?

Originally, no horse higher than thirteen hands and two inches (fifty-four inches) was allowed to play in the game of polo. Today there is no limitation. The horses used in polo range in size from 14 to 16 + hands. A majority of the polo horses are between 5 and 15 years of age.

How big is a polo field?

A regulation-sized polo field is 300 yards long by 160 yards wide. You can fit 7.5 football fields into the square footage of a polo field.

How big is a polo arena?

A regulation-sized polo arena is 110 yards long by 50 yards wide. The walls of a polo arena are at least 4 feet high.

What are the red boards that run the length of the field?

By definition, polo fields can be “boarded” or “unboarded,” the former preferred where spectators are in close proximity to the field to keep the ball in play and those chasing it from ending up in someone’s lap. Standing no more than 11 inches high and made of wood, sideboards are generally painted red or green.

What material is a polo ball made from?

Outdoor polo balls are white in color made of high-impact plastic. They are about 3.25” in diameter and 
weigh 4 ounces. In the past they were made with wood or willow root. Indoor polo balls are inflated leather balls that are approximately 4.5” in diameter.

What are polo mallets made of?

The shaft of a polo mallet is made of Manu cane and the head is constructed of a wood called Tipa (also known as Rosewood). The handle of the mallet has a rubber grip and a webbed sling. The canes come in different lengths and levels of flexibility. The mallet heads are made in different weights to suit the player’s preference.

Why are there no left-handed players?

Lefties were officially banned from polo in the mid-1930s for safety reasons, but the restriction was relaxed after World War II when polo players of any persuasion were a scarce lot. The USPA reinstated the lefty ban again in 1974 and it’s stuck: there are no more left-handed polo players.

What is a polo handicap?

Similar to golf, each player is rated using a handicap system. Twice a year polo players are handicapped from minus 2 to 10 goals by the United States Polo Association. The best players in the world are rated 10 goals. A team handicap is the total sum of its players. For example, an 8-goal team may have one 4-goal player, two 2-goal players and a 0-goal player. The word “goal” is used interchangeably with the word “handicap.” When someone says “he is a 4-goal player” that means his handicap is 4-goals. The handicap of a player depicts his or her skill level and is not associated with how many goals they score in a game.

What do the positions of each player 1-4 mean?

Outdoors, there are four members of a polo team, each playing a specific position. Rather than having names, the positions have numbers, one through four. Each team member wears the number of the position he plays on his jersey.

The Number 1 is generally offensive in nature and should be found closes to the opponent’s goal. The Number 2 is the hardest worker on the team, having to cover or “mark” the Number 3, who is typically the best player. The Number 3 is usually the team play-maker, quarterback and on-field coach. He is more defensive than offensive, but is always looking for opportunities to pass the ball up to his Number 1 or 2. The Number 4, or “Back”, is the pessimist. He is the last line of defense and tends to stay back to contain the opposition. He should generally be found closest to his own goal. Source:

What is a Chukker?

A period in a polo game, similar to innings or quarters in other sports. Typically, there are six chukkers in a game, although it is common to see four chukker or five chukker games at lower handicaps and in the arena.

In outdoor polo, a regulation chukker can be as long as seven minutes and thirty seconds. At the seven minute mark, a 30 second warning horn is sounded indicating 30 seconds remain. Play stops when the balls is hit out of bounds, touches the sideboards or the thirty seconds expires, whichever occurs first. The clock stops running for penalties, making
the actual time that elapses during a chukker longer than the seven and a half minutes on the clock. Source:

Is polo a contact sport?

Contact between horses and players is allowed in the form of a “ride-off” or a “hook.” A ride-off is a maneuver in which two players, traveling parallel and at the same speed, come together at the horses’ shoulders to attempt to move the other in order to gain or keep possession of the ball. An improperly executed ride-off is dangerous and is a foul, especially one that causes a horse or rider to lose his balance or stagger.

Players are allowed to use their mallet to impede the swing of an opponent. This technique is called a “hook.” To execute a proper and legal hook outdoors, the opponent’s mallet must be below his shoulder when hooked. Otherwise, a foul is called for a “high hook.” In the arena, the mallet must be below the back of the opponent’s horse.

In both outdoors and the arena, the player hooking must be on the same side of the opponent’s horse as the ball or directly behind. You cannot reach over, under, or across and opponent’s horse to execute a hook. If you do so, a foul will be called for a “cross hook.”

Empire Polo Club, ed. "Polo 101 Frequently Asked Questions." 
Empire Polo Lifestyle 2014:70-71. Print