Polo 101: A spectator’s guide to polo

Frequently Asked Questions & Information about polo

Polo is one of the oldest and fastest team sports in the world.

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” represents70%-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.

A polo pony waiting on the sidelines.

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 and made of high-impact plastic.  They are about 3.25 “ in diameter and weight 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.

Two players compete for the ball. Notice how flexible the mallets are.

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.  To understand why, consider this:  you’re driving merrily down the road when all of a sudden, coming straight at you, is a crazed Englishman driving on the left side of the road.  The panic you’d feel in that situation is just what a right-handed polo player feels when he and a lefty approach the ball from opposite directions.

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.

“Since the inception of the system in 1890, less than 50 players have ever been awarded a perfect handicap of 10-goals. At the present time, there are 11 active 10-goalers registered with the United States Polo Association.” – Source: www.us-polo.org.

How many players are on a polo team?

A polo team is made up of four players.  The players wear jerseys numbered 1-4.  Those are not only the numbers assigned to the players but reflect their corresponding positions as well.

This image shows the #1 player marking the #4 player.

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

The Number 1 is a forward, and attacking offensive player similar to a wing in hockey or a forward in soccer, and, played correctly, one of the most disciplined positions in the game, because not only must the Number keep the team attack stretched out, he must remain out in front of the alignment even when the ball does not come forward (because inevitably, the moment a player turns around and goes back for the ball, it will be driven forward, catching him out of position). Not only is the Number 1 responsible for scoring goals, he is also expected to “ride-off: the opposing defensive player allowing a trailing teammate the opportunity to score-similar to a blocking back in football (he takes a beating blocking opposing players out of the way, but gets no credit for the goal he allows his teammate to score except by his own teammates).  The Number 1 should be an accurate hitter and concentrate on scoring opportunities.  At the same time, he must also bear defensive responsibilities for the opposing player (the opposing Number 4).

The Number 2 is also primarily an offensive player who is expected to be able to turn quickly and follow the lead of the Number 1 in order to be in position to pick up a drop pass or tack advantage of a missed or blocked shot.  He should be one of the top mounted players on the team as he will be expected to cover a great deal of ground in the course of the match.  He is one of the top two players on the team.  His defensive responsibility is the opposing Number 3.

The Number 3 is usually the strongest player on the team and the field general.  The Number 3 attacks the opposing offense and turns the ball upfield, usually with a pass ahead to his Number 1 or Number 2.  The Number 3 must be able to hit long distances with accuracy and also have great hand-eye coordination allowing for the deft control of the ball.  The Number 3 will also aid in defense, taking the opposing Number 2 or offering defensive support to his Number 4.

The Number 4 or “Back, as he is often referred to, is the most defensive-minded player on the team.  His responsibility is to defend his team’s goal and he should be able to turn opposing shots at goal aside, or completely reverse the direction of the ball with a powerful backshot.  When opportunities arise, the Number 4 might also carry the ball forward, passing the Number 3 and/or Number 2 for a shot at goal himself, but his main responsibility remains defensive in nature, and his opposing player is the Number 1.

These roles are flexible, however, and in the course of a game players will interchange positions until they have the opportunity to return to their place on the field.

To learn more about the sport of polo or to locate a polo school near you, visit www.Polo101.com.