What’s What of Polo
A full match is made up of time periods called chukkas. Each Chukka is 7 minutes and 30 seconds with 2 minutes 30 in between to change horses. It does not sound like a lot, but 7 minutes of galloping, stopping and turning means that the horses work hard and changing them reduces strain. At low goal (level), matches are made up of 4 chukkas.
Outdoor Polo is mainly played in the Summer on a huge grass field, 300 yards by 160 yards—the largest field in any professional sport (the equivalent of 9 football fields, set on 10 acres). The long lengthy passes and ponies galloping up and down the pitch are spectacular. Popular for its adrenaline rush and for the champagne-sipping that occurs on the sidelines, outdoor polo is what first springs to mind when you think of the sport.
Arena polo is a little more beginner friendly but that is not to stop anyone taking it up outdoor to start with. A polo arena has solid walls and is typically 100×50 yards (but this size can vary a bit). You get more out of your arena chukka than you do your grass chukka at the beginner levels - more action in a smaller space. In arena polo less time is spent chasing without the ball, and more time is spent hooking mallets and bumping your opponent out of the way to take possession of the ball. It’s like a crash course in polo skill and technique. Arena polo can be played all year round.
Polo horses are specially trained, highly intelligent and very tolerant. They come in many shapes and sizes and are characterised by their speed and agility. Many go on to make incredible lesson horses upon retirement when their experience allows them to nurture beginners through the motions of the game! That being said, many playing ponies do lessons in their spare time - here at MHF some of our rockstar horses who won the Arena Gold Cup, with the Banner-Eves in 2018, were doing beginner lessons just a few days afterwards!
Many retrained racehorses go on to make fantastic polo ponies. They have already have the speed and athleticism required to handle the quick, precise movements. Introduce mallet and ball skills and you’ve got yourself a decent polo pony. Polo horses are used to commotion, chaos, noise, yelling and bumping, not to mention all the commotion going on off the field!
Before a match tails are tied up to prevent interference with the mallet, bandages and boots are strapped on for tendon protection and support and the complicated bridles are used to neck rein the horses, making them some of the easiest in the business to control!
Why not consider a retired polo pony from us to teach you the ropes? Many diversify into other disciplines post-polo such as dressage or jumping!
Polo is not nearly as dangerous as it looks…
Polo might look chaotic and even dangerous, but if you are properly taught and educated, it’s as safe as any other discipline. There are plenty of rules:
To put it simply, If you wouldn’t do it in your car on the highway, don’t do it with your horse in polo. The 100+ pages of rules are designed to keep the horses and riders safe at all times. Accidents do happen, as in all disciplines, but strict rules are enforced by trained umpires to maximise safety in a seemingly chaotic environment. It is a full contact sport, but what may look like a free-for-all melee is actually carefully regulated to make sure all contact is safe and minimise accidents.
Our professional coaches will make sure you know all the “dos and don’ts” of polo and so do not allow your inexperience prevent you from giving it a shot - you can take it at whatever pace suits you.
Whether you’re interested in playing grass polo, arena polo or both, there are great courses at numerous polo clubs throughout the country, each with programs and courses for beginners.
What many say about polo:
You don’t have to be very good to enjoy it. You will enjoy it at every stage.
No one judges you on your ability or appearance, it is a welcoming community.
50% of the people who play, win. But even the 50% who lose in that game, enjoy it. When you lose, you know exactly why you lost. The scoreboard will tell you.
You can play polo while you learn polo—the fun never stops. The only difference between a new player and a pro is the pro can consistently hit farther, longer and with more accuracy than a new player.
Polo barns are relaxing atmospheres. You will never see a barrier at a polo field that prevents the public from walking up to the horses and interacting with the players.
Polo ponies are not spooky and can usually handle strange environments, they live and work as a herd which makes them pretty bombproof… they lead adventurous lives!
It’s not about what you’re wearing, how you look, or how close you are to achieving an aesthetic standard of one single judge. Get out there, have fun, be safe and score some goals.
Polo is an intense, relatively unknown, often criticized, always misunderstood, highly addictive sport full of amazing people from all over the world. So get out there and give it a shot. You will be glad you did!