What the heck are those people doing on the field chasing that tiny plastic ball? Don’t feel bad if you don’t understand the game. Once you understand the basic concept – score as many goals as possible – the game is more enjoyable to watch.
Two teams of four players go against each other. Every player is armed with a mallet which they use to hit the ball. The players are attempting to hit the ball through the opposing team’s goals similar to hockey or soccer. Each goal is worth 1 point. The polo field is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide. The game is divided into six periods known as chukkers which last seven and a half minutes each. Time outs don’t exist unless their is a foul or an injury on the field.
Basic Match Objectives & Rules
- Score more goals than the other team.
- After each goal, the teams switch sides.
- Whichever team has the most points at the end of all of the chukkers, wins.
- The sudden death system of determining the winner shall prevail when score is tied at the end of the regulation playing time.
Player Jersey Numbers
- The four players on each polo team wear a number between 1 and 4.
- The number represents the player’s position on the field.
- The player wearing the number 1 is the primary offensive player.
- The player wearing the number 2 supports the number 1 player and plays defense.
- The number 3 player is the team captain who is the strategist and tactician on the field.
- The player wearing the number 4 is the most defense-oriented player on the field.
Understanding the “line of the ball”
- When a player hits the ball, the direction the ball travels in creates an imaginary line (referred to as “The Line”).
- The Line is like the central reservation of a motorway. To avoid a collision this line cannot be crossed (Fig.1).
- Players must travel in one direction on either side of The Line (Fig.2 and Fig.3).
- A player hitting the ball on the right hand side of his Horse has priority over a player hitting on the left. So if two players are meeting they must meet right hand to right (Fig.3). This avoids any collisions (Fig.4).
Fouls and Safety
- Dangerous plays are the foundation for most fouls.
- The “line of the ball”, is an imaginary line created by the ball as it travels down the field.
- Players must ride in the direction of the line of the ball.
- The line of the ball defines rules for players to approach the ball safely.
There are 7 types of penalty:
- Penalty Goal – a dangerous foul is committed near the goal mouth and so a goal is automatically awarded.
- 30 Yard Penalty – a spot penalty is awarded to the attacking team 30 yards from the goal. It is undefended. The attacking team must score the goal with one shot.
- 40 Yard Penalty – a spot penalty is awarded to the attacking team 40 yards from the goal. The defending team must stay behind the back line. The attacking team must score the goal with one shot. The penalty can be defended by a player riding across the goal and trying to block the ball.
- 60 Yard Penalty – a spot penalty is awarded to the attacking team 60 yards from the goal. The defending team must be 30 yards from the ball.
- Half Way Penalty – a spot penalty is awarded to the attacking team on the half way line. The defending team must be 30 yards from the ball.
- Spot Penalty – a spot penalty is awarded to the attacking team at the point where the foul occurred. The defending team must be 30 yards from the ball.
- Penalty 60 – When the defending team hit the ball over their own back line a spot penalty is awarded to the attacking team 60 yards from the goal. The defending team must be 30 yards from the ball.
Listed below are some of the terms used in the context of Polo.
Appealing – This is when a player raises their stick in the air to draw the umpires attention to a foul. It’s against the rules but players still do it!
Back hand – This is a type of shot that a player can play. The ball in this case is hit backwards from the horse. There are variations such as “tail” and “open”.
Ball – This is a white plastic ball measuring 3 and a ¼ inches in diameter. It can travel at speeds in excess of 100 miles an hour.
Bandages – These are a length of protective cloth wrapped around the horses cannon bone to support the tendon and provide protection from knocks.
Bay – A colour description for a horse with a black mane and tail, and reddish brown colour over the rest of the body.
Bit – The metal or rubber straight or linked bar that rest in a horses mouth. This is attached to the bridle and reigns and used to control the Horse.
Blaze – A natural white marking down the face of a horse.
Breast plate – A piece of leather tack that reaches around the horses chest to keep the saddle from slipping back.
Breeches – Trousers worn by the rider, usually a pair of white jeans.
Bridle – A harness of leather straps around the horses head to hold the bit in place.
Brushing boots – Also called over reach boots or coronet boots. Usually made of neoprene, these are designed to protect the hoof and lower part of the leg (below the fetlock).
Buck – This is when a horse tries to dismount a rider by lowering it’s head and throwing it’s backside in the air.
Cannon Bone – This is the part of the horse’s leg where the bandages are applied. Found between the Knee and the Fetlock.
Canter – The action of a horse moving. A canter is faster than a trot but slower than a gallop.
Check and turn – This is when a horse is asked to change direction. The check is a light pull to the horses mouth coupled with a lifting action from the riders legs. A Polo Pony will then shift it’s weight on to it’s back legs. With the horses weight on it’s back legs it is then asked to turn.
Check up – Where a rider has to stop or partially stop to avoid a collision.
Chestnut – A colour description for a horse with a light brown body, mane and tail.
Chukka – A period of seven and a half minutes of play.
Coronet – The surface of the hoof.
Coronet Band – The top of the hoof.
Criollo – An Argentinian breed of horse originally brought over from Spain.
Crop – Also known as a Whip. Used as a riders aid, not for punishment.
Divot – A section of turf ripped up from the ground by a horses hoof.
Draw reign – A set of reins attached to the girth at one end, passing through the rings of the bit and back to the rider’s hands. Used to control and align the horse’s head position.
Drop noseband – Used to remind a horse to keep it’s mouth closed and therefore giving the rider more control.
Dun – A colour description for a horse of light to medium sand colour with dark skin, dark points on the mane, tail, and lower legs.
Farrier – A professional blacksmith who puts shoes on horses.
Fetlock – The ankle joint of a horses leg.
Field – The ground that the game of Polo is played on.
Filly – A female horse under 4 years old.
Gait – The different ways a horse can move. They are Walk, Trot, Canter and Gallop.
Gag – A type of bit. The most commonly used in Polo.
Gallop – The fastest way a horse can move.
Gelding – A castrated male horse.
Girth – The wide leather strap that holds the saddle on a horses back.
Goal – A goal is scored in a polo match anytime the ball crosses the line between the goal posts, regardless of who (including a Polo Pony) knocks it through.
Goal judge – A person who stands behind the goal and signals with a raised flag when a goal is scored. They will also signal a goal has missed by waving the flag from left to right at waist level.
Grey – A colour description for a horse that ranges from white to dark grey.
Green horse – A young horse that is fairly new to the game of Polo.
Groomed horse – A horse that has been prepared for Polo but before the tack is applied. This includes brushing, hoof picking, mane clipping and the tail tied up.
Halter – Also called a head collar. This is a harness of leather, rope, or nylon that fits over a horse’s head, like a bridle but without a bit or reins, used for leading a horse or tying up.
Handicap – The ability rating of a player or team. A player handicap is a rating from minus two (beginner) to ten (the best players in the world). A team handicap is all the players handicaps added up. The higher the team handicap the better the team.
Hands – A unit of measurement used to measure a horse’s height. A hand is approximately 4 inches. The measurement is taken from its withers (the highest point on a horse’s back just before the mane begins) to the ground in a straight line.
Head collar – see Halter.
High goal – A term to describe the standard of Polo. This is Polo played at the highest level and by the best players in the world.
Hind quarters – The part of the horse’s body from the rear of the flank to the top of the tail – it’s backside.
Hit in – When a player hits a ball in to play from their team’s own back line.
Hock – The knee joint on a horse’s hind legs.
Hogged mane – A mane that has been completely removed from a horse by using hair clippers. This is to allow a player to see around a horse’s neck without obstruction.
Hoof – The foot on a horse. A horse shoe is applied to the base.
Hoof picking – Part of the grooming process. This is where a hoof pick (metal blunt pick) is used to remove any dirt or stones from the base of the horses hoof.
Hook – The action where a Polo player uses their stick to stop another player hitting a ball.
HPA – Hurlingham Polo Association, this is the UK governing body for Polo.
Knee Rolls – Padding on a saddle where the rider’s knee sits.
Lame – When a horse has injured a leg.
Line (The Line) – A term is used to describe an invisible line created by the direction the ball has travelled in. This line cannot be crossed. Players must instead travel up and down it rather like the central reservation of a motorway.
Low goal – This is a term to describe the lowest standard of Polo. By far the most popular and fiercely competitive.
Made Pony – A horse that has been trained for Polo.
Mallet – Another term for a Polo stick.
Mane – The hair that grows along the top of a horse’s neck.
Mare – A female horse over 4 years old.
Martingale – In Polo this is a Standing Martingale. This is a leather strap that goes from the girth to the bridle underneath the chin to prevent a horse from throwing its head up.
Medium goal – A term to describe the standard of Polo. A higher standard that Low goal but not as high as High goal.
Nearside – The left side of the horse if you are sitting on it’s back.
Neck reigning – The action where a rider asks a horse to turn in one direction by applying pressure on it’s neck with the reigns.
Neck shot – This is a type of shot that a player can play. The ball in this case is hit under the horses neck.
Officials – The officials in a Polo match are the two mounted umpires and a referee on the sidelines.
Offside – The right side of a horse if you are sitting on it’s back.
Open (shot) – A type of shot where the ball is hit so it travels at an angle away from the horse.
Out of bounds – This is where the ball is hit outside the field area and therefore goes out of play.
Palomino – A colour description for a gold coloured horse with a blond or white mane and tail.
Pass – When a player hits a ball to another player.
Patron – A player who pays a professional to play in their team.
Pelham – A type of bit.
Penalty – A free hit awarded to a team because the opposite team committed a foul.
Piebald – A colour description for a horse made up of white with black patches.
Pommel – This is a part of the saddle that sits over the horse’s withers.
Ride off – The action where a player travelling in the same direction as another player tries to gain advantage over the ball by pushing the other player to one side using their horse.
Reigns – A thin strip of leather going from one side of the bit, through the riders hand and back to the other side of the bit. Used for control, a Polo bridle has two reigns. S Saddle – Placed on a horse’s back for the rider to sit on. A Polo saddle has a low pommel and no knee rolls to allow the rider to sit forward on the horse’s back.
Skew bald – A colour description for a horse made up of white with brown patches.
Side boards – Wooden boards running along the side of the Polo ground to keep the ball in play.
Snaffle – A type of bit.
Sound – A horse that is free from lameness or injury.
Spur – A blunt metal device worn on the heel of a riders boot. Used as a riding aid.
Stick – Used by a rider to hit the ball. The shaft can be between 49 and 53 inches in length (depending on the size of the horse) and normally made from Bamboo with a Tipa wood head. The ball is struck on the side of the head (unlike croquet). Some modern sticks use a carbon fibre or fibreglass shaft.
Stick and ball – The term used to describe a player practising before playing.
Stirrup – The Stirrup Iron is a metal D- shaped ring hung from the saddle to support the rider’s leg. The leather strap the Stirrup Iron hangs from is called the Stirrup Leather.
Sudden death – Overtime play in polo when the score is tied at the end of the last chukka, the first team to score a goal wins.
Surcingle – A leather strap placed over the saddle to provide additional support and as a back up in case the girth breaks.
Tack – Any equipment worn by a horse including studs, bandages, saddle, bridle, reins, martingale etc.
Tail (shot) – This is a type of shot a player can play. The ball in this case is hit at an angle behind the horses tail.
Third man – One of the match officials, the third man is unmounted and stays in the centre of the ground. He is there to give the final decision if the umpires can’t agree.
Thoroughbred – A breed of horse descended from three Arab stallions brought to Britain in the 17th century. Thoroughbreds are favoured by Polo players because of their agility, speed and spirit.
Throw in – When the two teams line up opposite each other and an umpire throws the ball between them to start play.
Treading in – This is when spectators are asked to walk on to the ground and help repair damage to the playing surface. A section of turf ripped from the ground is called a divot. This is picked up placed in the hole where it was removed and then the foot is used to tread it down.
Trot – The action of a horse moving. A trot is faster than a walk but slower than a canter. Turn the ball – This is when a player rather than play a backhand will tap the ball around until they are facing in the opposite direction.
Umpires – These are the two mounted referees.
Whip – Also known as a Crop. Used as a riders aid, not for punishment.
Wind milling – When a player swings their stick above their head in a helicopter motion.
This is done in joy or frustration and illegal for safety reasons.
Withers – The slight ridge on a horse’s back just before the mane begins.