Polo may have been played as early as 2000 years ago by tribesmen on the European steppes. Though the training was war-like in nature, the expenditure of resources ensured that rules were quickly developed that would ensure safety with minimal injuries to man or horse.
Modern Polo has developed from this ethos and, although you will see exciting chases and clashes on the polo field, the circumstances under which this takes place are carefully controlled by the rules. There are two sets of rules - one for arena play and another for outdoors - they account for the different size in the playing areas and conditions.
The rules are updated annually as the sport continues to evolved. For those interested in a detailed analysis of the current rules, following the link courtesy of the US Polo Association.
For those interested in a brief primer on outdoor polo, played on grass, we offer the following:
The Game: The match consists of 6 Chukkers (periods), seven and a half minutes each. The field is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide, which is the size of 9 football fields. On the end line at each end are goal posts, 24 feet apart. Points are scored by hitting the ball between the posts. Each time a goal is scored, the teams change direction of play. It is legal to hook the opponent’s mallet as well as ‘bump’ your opponent from the side during play. The game is very physical and can be dangerous. In between chukkers there is a several-minute break for players to change ponies. There is a half-time rest period when spectators are invited onto the pitch to help replace the divots. The clock is stopped during periods for penalties. The match is typically 2 hours in duration.
Players: There are four players on the field for each team, wearing jerseys numbered 1-4. The roles of each player are:
#1 - the Forward is always out in front, should score most of the goals
#2 - the Hustler is quick and aggressive with fast ponies
#3 - the Quarterback and captain has to hit a long accurate shot
#4 - the Back Defender’s job is to stop shots on goal, as there is no goalie
Mallet: It’s a solid bamboo cane with a hard wood head. It’s about 4/5 feet long and you hit the ball with the side of the mallet, not the end. All players must hold the mallet in the right hand; left-handed play is not allowed.
The Ball: Today’s ball is solid plastic weighing 1/4lb and is a little larger than a baseball. Historically polo balls were made of wood.
Foul: When you hear the umpire blow the whistle, a player must have committed a foul, which typically gives the other team a penalty hit. The most common foul is crossing ‘the line’ of play, determined by the direction of the ball’s movement. 40% of the points in a match are scored from penalty shots.
Rules: In the US, the rules of play are governed by the United States Polo Association. The rules are so complex that it takes 55 pages to explain them in the official rule book. In a nutshell: don’t hit your horse or anyone else’s with a mallet. You can’t play left-handed. No dangerous riding. Abusive play and language are not allowed. If a player comes off his or her horse, the clock can continue to run; if a horse falls down, stop the clock.