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Polo

 

Polo 1
© United States Polo Association

 

History

Possibly the oldest team sport, polo's genesis is lost to the eye of history. An Asiatic game, polo was probably first played on a barren campground by nomadic warriors over two thousand years ago.

Valuable for training Calvary, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan by the Middle Ages. Known in the East as the Game of Kings, Tamer Lane's polo grounds can still be seen in Samarkand.

British tea planters in India witnessed the game in the early 1800's but it was not until the 1850's that the British Calvary drew up the earliest rules and by the 1869's, the game was well established in England.

James Gordon Bennett, a noted American publisher; balloonist, and adventurer, was captivated by the sport and brought it to New York in 1876 where it caught on immediately. Within ten years, there were major clubs all over the east, including Newport and Long Island.

Over the next 50 years, polo achieved extraordinary popularity in the United States. By the 1930's polo was in the midst of a Golden Age - it was an Olympic sport and crowds in excess of 30,000 regularly attended international matches at Meadowbrook Polo Club on Long Island. The galloping game produced athletes who would doubtless have achieved greatness in any sport: Cecil Smith, the Texas cowboy, who held a perfect 10-goal rating for a still-record 25 years; Devereux Melbourne, instrumental in formulating modern styles of play; and Tommy Hitchcock, war hero, and the best of the best in international competition for two decades. Other, more well-known, notables include: Winston Churchill, Walt Disney and Will Rogers.

In the past 20 years, polo in the United States has undergone an unprecedented and remarkable expansion. At present, there are more than 200 polo clubs with over 4,000 players affiliated with the United States Polo Association (USPA), the National Governing Body for the sport of polo.

The Sport Today

Known as "the king of sports," polo is a team sport and has been described as hockey on horseback due to its speed and intensity as players try to score on the opposing team's goal. Riding horseback, players travel at speeds of up to 35 mph while trying to hit a white plastic ball with a long-handled mallet averaging around 54 inches in length. Contrary to popular belief, however, in polo you hit the ball with the long side of the mallet's head rather than one of its ends. There are two teams in a typical polo match (not to be mistaken for a polo tournament, in which there are four teams or more) and each polo team consists of four players and their mounts. The polo field is the largest in organized sports and is the equivalent of nine football fields at 300 yards long and 160 yards wide. A typical match is divided into six 7 1/2-minute periods called chukkers. Players switch horses between chukkers due to the intensity and speed of the game.

The term "polo pony" is a traditional phrase used to describe a horse that is used to play polo. In the early days of polo, the height of the mounts used for polo, were restricted to pony size and thus the term "polo pony" developed. Polo ponies today can be of any size or breed. The average size of a polo pony used today is about 15-15.3 hands tall. The most common breeds used for polo today are the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse. A well trained horse will carry his rider smoothly and swiftly to the ball and can account for 60 to 75 percent of the player's skill and net worth to his or her team. All rules are designed to protect the safety of the horse and player - including a rule that players cannot play left-handed.

jr camp III 0807 arena race
© United States Polo Association

 

Each player is ranked with a handicap between negative two and 10 based on their skill level. A 10-goal ranking is so difficult to achieve that today only a dozen people in the world are ranked at that level. Moreover, of all active players, 90 percent have a handicap of only two goals or less.

Another popular variation of the sport is arena polo where only three players are required per team and the game usually involves more maneuvering and shorter plays at lower speeds due to space limitations of the arena. The regulation size of the playing area is 300 feet in length by 150 feet in width. Arena polo is normally played in facilities which have walls or gates enclosing the dirt surface playing area with surround netting to ensure the safety of spectators. Arena polo is increasing in popularity because it can be played either indoors or outdoors, days or nights under lights; and weather permitting, all year round. Arena polo is also considered an ideal introduction of the sport to the beginner rider.

Brushy Creek
© United States Polo Association

 

The Hurlingham Polo Association (UK) and U.S. Polo Association, both national governing bodies for the sport in their respective countries, have established their own rules for arena polo; and these rules are often used in other countries. Arena polo is thriving across North America at the interscholastic and intercollegiate level, governed by the USPA, with over 80 I/I programs to date and counting.

 

Additional Information

For additional information contact:

    United States Polo Association
    4037 Iron Works Parkway
    Suite 110
    Lexington, KY, 40511
    (800) 232-USPA
    http://uspolo.org

 

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