Polo | Guide to Polo

POLO - The Sport Of Kings

Polo was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1936 and around 20 countries professionally

The game of Polo goes back to the year 600 B.C. The game, whose origins are shrouded in the midst of history, is the oldest of all sports which still exist. China, Iran, Manipur, Mongolia, Pakistan and Tibet all claim to be the birthplace of Polo. The game which has long been associated with the kings and maharajas of society is one of the most exciting sports to play. Polo is played on a grass field, which is 9 times the size of one football field or in the arena, on a dirt field 100 yards by 50 yards. Four players on a team play in Outdoor Polo while the Arena Polo has 3 players on a team. Polo has been a royal pass time undertaken to display chivalry and prowess. It has also inspired aesthetic artworks among sundry artists since time immemorial.

“When you are on a great horse, you have the best seat you will ever have.”

-Sir Winston Churchill

The modern game of Polo is divided into periods called chukkas or chukkers. Polo was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1936 and around 20 countries professionally play the game. The object of Polo for a team is to score more points than its opposition, thus winning the game. Each team attempts to move the ball into the opposition’s half of the pitch with the aim of eventually hitting it through the goal to score.

Simran Singh Shergill  polo player
Polo rules are set up primarily for the safety of horses, but they also keep the players safe. The most important concept in Polo is the right-of-way which is determined by the direction of the ball’s movement. An imaginary line is created from where the ball began moving to the point where it stopped. The player following the ball along the line has the right-of-way.

Polo Concepts

Line of the Ball: Plays are based on the “Line of the Ball,” or LOB, an imaginary line created by the ball as it travels down the field. It represents a “Right of Way” for the last player striking the ball and is the basis for most fouls in the game.

  • Players lineup in numerical order at the start of the game opposite the opposing team. An umpire rolls the ball between the teams and the match begins. The play is continuous throughout the chukker unless the umpire blows the whistle for a foul or there is an injury to a player or horse. If a penalty is called, the team fouled will have an opportunity to execute a penalty shot.

Right of Way: The “Right Of Way” exists between two or more players in the propinquity of the ball and extends ahead of the players entitled to it and in the direction of the riders. The Right of Way is not dependent on who last hit the ball.

Teams and Handicaps: A team consists of 4 players in outdoor Polo and three players in arena/indoor polo. The team can be a mix of both men, women, professionals and amateurs. Players are handicapped on a scale of -2 to +10. The player’s handicap is determined by a player’s horsemanship, quality of horses, hitting ability etc. Minus 2 indicates a novice player, while a player rated at 10 goals has the highest handicap. It is difficult to attain a 10-goal handicap and only a few dozen players are handicapped 10. Professional players are generally handicapped at 5-goals or more. In matches, the handicaps of all four players are totalled. If the total handicap of a team is more than the total of the team against which they are playing, the difference is added to the scoreboard.

Col Ravi Rathore polo player
Improper Use of Mallet: The mallet of an opponent cannot be hooked unless he/she is in an act of hitting the ball or attempting to hook or strike the player’s own mallet. The mallet must be below the opponent’s shoulder.

The Officials : During the match, two umpires are present on the field while the referee assists from the sidelines. If the umpires are not able to take a decision they consult the third umpire/referee.

Overtime : If the match ends on a tie after the last chukker, options for both outdoor Polo and arena polo include sudden death or shootout. The first team to score a goal in the fifth chukker wins the game in sudden death. In an outdoor “shootout,” each player in turn, and alternating teams will attempt a free hit from the 40-yard line (25-yard line in the arena) at an undefended goal. The team with the most goals scored wins the game.


“A horse is like a violin, first it must be tuned, and when tuned it must be accurately played.”

Polo ‘ponies’ are basically horses who are usually above the maximum height of a pony- 14.2 hands. Today typically measures 15.1 hands but can also go beyond 16, a significant increase from 13 hands in the 16th century. Each rider or player uses multiple ponies in a game, depending upon the level of competition and number of chukkas.

The present-day polo horse is a result of a century of genetic selection and crossbreeding. Mountain ponies from the Himalayas, Manipur Ponies from Manipur (in India), Arabians and Thoroughbreds are some of the widely used breeds.

polo horses stable
polo horses stable

The horses that inhabited Pampa in Argentina, after they escaped from the first foundation at Buenos Aires in 1536, had Spanish and Berber origins. They reproduced a new species of horses which came to be known ‘criollo’. In recent times, crosses of Thoroughbreds and Criollo from Argentina have become popular in world Polo . The qualities of rusticity, endurance and ability to adapt of a Criollo, and speed and agility of a Thoroughbred are considered to be highly desirable qualities of a polo pony.

A well trained and good pony can account for up to 75% of the rider’s performance and skill set. Polo training begins at the age of three and can last from six months to two years. They reach their peak of athleticism at 6-7 years of age and can go on playing even till the age of 18-20.

polo horses
polo horses


“There’s nothing wrong with you that a little Prozac and a Polo mallet can’t cure”

- Woody Allen

The stick with which the ball is hit- ‘mallet’ as we see today, is a much-evolved version of itself. In ancient Iran, different from its present-day L-shaped structure, they had heads in the shape of an arc or even straight with equal length on both sides of the shaft. In Japan and Byzantium, racquets were used at the end of the shaft instead of the wooden head.

In its present form, a Polo mallet comprises of:

  • A cane shaft with rubber-wrapped grip; it is made of manau-cane although some players nowadays also prefer composite materials in the composition of their shafts. However, traditional cane mallets are the first choice of top professionals because of their better vibration-absorbing capability than composite materials. It varies in flexibility and weight as per the players’ preferences.

  • A webbed thong for wrapping around the thumb called sling.

  • A cigar-shaped head made of hardwood called tip, usually 9¼ inches long. The weight of the head is highly considered by professionals and due attention is paid on the preference of players and the type of wood used. Considering both these factors, a typical head weighs from 160g to 240g. Generally, female players use lighter mallets than their male counterparts.

polo mallets equipments
polo equipments

The entire length of a polo mallet usually ranges from 50 to 53 inches, depending upon the height of the horse. Some players, however, prefer a uniform length irrespective of their horses’ height. In elephant polo, it measures as long as 6-10 feet.

The term ‘mallet’ is used in the US English, while in British English it is simply referred to as ‘polo stick’.

Legend has it that Alexander the Great when about to invade Persia was sent a polo ball and mallet by the Persian ruler as an invitation to a game of Polo .

Turning down the invitation, replied the greatest conqueror of all time:

“I am the stick, the ball is the world”

Polo ball has had a history of undergoing evolution from one material to another in its composition. It has been made of bamboo, leather-covered cork, hard rubber, and for a long time- willow root. British polo players were known to use a white leather cricket ball in the earlier days of the game.

In fact, the game of polo takes its modern name from the word ‘pulu’, which is the Tibetan word for willow root of which the ball was made in earlier times.

polo ball
polo ball

It was only in the 1970s that plastic balls were introduced because of their tendency to being less prone to breakage and economical. In modern-day Polo , the ball is white and made of high-impact plastic. The outdoor polo ball is 3 to 3.5 inches in diameter and weighs 3.5 to 4.5 ounces.

The structure and dimensions of the ball are different for indoor, arena and beach polo wherein the ball is covered with leather and inflated. Its diameter is more than an outdoor polo ball, with a usual length of 4.5 inches, weighing 6 to 6.4 ounces.
In snow polo, the ball is much larger and bright red in colour to prevent it from disappearing in the snow.

Polo Glossary

Just like any other game, Polo has its own language. Here are some of the terminologies from the complex language of Polo.

Chukkar The term ‘chukka’ comes from an Indian word meaning circle or rounds. Chukkas are periods or rounds for which the game is played. There are 4-8 chukkas in a game of polo with a duration of 7 minutes each, plus an additional 30 seconds of extra-time.

If during extra time, the ball hits the sideboards or goes out of bounds, or there is a foul, the chukka is declared over before the completion of 30 seconds. The only exception being the final chukka, where there is no extra time unless the scores are at level.

There is a 3-minute interval between two chukkas and a 5-minute interval at the halftime. Matches are usually divided into 4,5 or 6 chukkas depending upon the level of goals- low, medium or high.
polo action mathhew perry

Bell Or Hooter : The bell or hooter is used to signal the end of a chukka. The timekeeper rings the bell or hooter, situated on the sidelines, after the completion of seven minutes in a chukka. Play continues for 30 seconds after every bell, except for the last one. The sound of the bell at the end of the last chukka marks the end of the game.

Bump: A player is permitted to ride off another to spoil his shot. The angle of contact must be lesser than 45 degrees. The angle depends on the speed of the pony, the faster the pony will travel the smaller the angle must be. A good bump will shake discs and dentures loose.

Appealing: Appealing usually refers to the claims by players for a foul generally expressed by the raising of mallets above the head or by a helicoptering motion.Over demonstrative appealing is considered very bad form.

Field:The standard size of a full size Polo field is 300 yards by 160 yards or the area of three soccer pitches. The goal posts are set eight yards apart.

polo umpires
Goal: Anytime the ball crosses, at any height, the line between the goal posts, it is considered a goal regardless of who knocks it through, including the pony.

Hook: Provided the player is on the same side of the opponent’s pony as the ball, he may spoil the opponent’s by putting his stick in the way of striking player’s.

Judges: Goal judges are positioned behind each goal to signal whether a goal has been scored or not. Hard hats are worn by judges for protection.

Knock-in: Should a team hit the ball across the opponent’s backline during an attack, the defending team resumes the game with a free hit from the backline where the ball went over. This is equivalent to a goal kick in soccer.

Line of the ball:‘Crossing the line’ is the most frequent and the most attempted foul in polo. The line of the ball is the imaginary line along which the ball travels which represents a right of way for the player following nearest that line. There are strict rules governing opponents entry into the right of way.

Neck Shot: Neck Shot is called when a ball is hit under the pony’s neck.

Out-of-bounds: The play is considered to be out-of-bounds when a ball goes over the sideboards. The umpire rolls the ball in between the two teams lined up at the point at which it left the field of play. It is equivalent to a throw-in in soccer.

Offside: The right-hand side of the pony.

Penalty: A free hit towards the goal is awarded when a foul is committed. The hit is taken from a set distance, depending on the harshness of the offence. Distances are as follows:
Penalty 1: Automatic goal
Penalty 2: 30 yards to an open goal
Penalty 3: 40 yards to an open goal
Penalty 4: 60 yards to a defended goal
Penalty 5: from anywhere on the ground
Penalty 5B: from the centre of the ground

Quartet: The number of players in a team. Ride-off: Two riders may make contact and push each other off the line to prevent the other from striking the ball. It is primarily intended for the ponies to do the pushing, but a player is allowed to use his body, but not his elbows.

Ride-off: Two riders may make contact and push each other off the line to prevent the other from striking the ball. It is primarily intended for the ponies to do the pushing, but a player is allowed to use his body and not his elbows.

Delhi polo season hurr ali
Safety: Also known as a Penalty 6, safety is awarded when a defending player hits the ball over his own backline. The shot is taken 60 yards out from the backline, opposite the point at which the ball went over. It is equivalent to a corner shot in soccer and no defender is allowed to be nearer than 30 yards from the ball when it is played.

Time-Out: Time-Out is called by an umpire when a foul is committed, an accident occurs or at his discretion. A player may call timeout if he has broken a key piece of tack or is injured. A time-out is not permitted for changing ponies or for replacing a broken mallet and the player may do so at any time.

Xtra-Time: In the event of a tied score at the end of the final chukker, a five-minute break is allowed to the players to catch their breath and change to a fresh mount before beginning the golden chukker or the sudden-death chukker. The first team to score wins. In extra time, the goal area is usually widened by moving the goalposts an extra 8 yards apart.

Zone (safety): The area around the pitch that is out of bounds for the spectators during the match.


History Of Polo
History Of Polo

Although the sport of Polo is older than its recorded history, the Sport of the Kings has evolved a lot with time and the origins of the game lie in the inspirational relationship between a human and horse. A version of Polo was played by the Mounted nomads in Central Asia with as many as 100 men on one side. It was a part sport and part training for war. The nomads’ migration to Persia between 600 B.C. and 100 A.D. saw the game move to Persia. Polo became a national sport in Persia. It was played by the military men and nobility. The game gradually expanded and spread west to Constantinople, east to Tibet, China and Japan, and south to India.

The modern game of Polo originated in Manipur, India. Lieutenant Joe Sherer saw the locals playing the game one day and decided to learn the game. The Britishers were inspired from the game and founded a Polo club in 1859 along with tea planters. The club was called The Silchar Polo Club. From India, polo spread as fast as its enthusiasts could travel, appearing in Malta in 1868, England in 1869, Ireland in 1870, Argentina in 1872 and Australia in 1874. Polo spread as fast as its enthusiasts could travel from India, appearing in Malta in 1868, England in 1869, Ireland in 1870, Argentina in 1872 and Australia in 1874.


History of polo in britain

Spanish player from the Real Polo Club de Barcelona, Norman James Cinnamond stated in his book, El Polo, “The ancient game of Polo might have started in Ireland somewhere between 1861 and 1865.” According to Norman James Cinnamond, Valentine Irwin, a Stonyhurst College graduate and an Indian Civil Service commissioner, had played Polo in Manipur. Irwin introduced Polo in county Roscommon when he returned to his native country on holiday. The new pastime, Polo could not prosper in the country either due to the size of the horses or due to the apparent roughness of the Roscommon players.

British Polo Paradise Cowdray Park resonates with quintessential Polo spunk and has an illustrious history spanning over 100 years. Polo started at Cowdray Park Polo Club in 1910 through the enthusiasm of the Hon Harold Pearson, son of the first Viscount Cowdray, who persuaded his father to have a polo ground laid out at his new home, Cowdray house. The presentation of Cowdray Park Challenge Cup in 1911 marked the first tournament of Cowdray Park, which is still played today. When polo thrived through the 1920s and 1930s, the outbreak of World War II saw the demise of the sport.

The end of the war saw a determined John Cowdray continue playing polo. He was so committed to the game that he had his gun makers fashion a prosthetic limb so that he could hold the reins with a hook on the false left arm, allowing him to wield the mallet with his right hand. By the summer of 1947, John Cowdray was organising tournaments at Cowdray once again, mainly by loaning ponies to friends. In 1948, seven teams took part in the Cowdray Challenge Cup attracting a large number of foreign players.

Now in its 63rd year, the Gold Cup at Cowdray Park is a major UK sporting attraction. Cowdray Park Polo Club is renowned for the quality of its pitches - 10 in all. The club plays over a 400 matches a season across 30 tournaments from 4-goal to 22-goal handicap. The Cowdray Park Polo Club marks the success of Polo in the United Kingdom.


Polo (in India) was originated by distant rulers in ancient Manipur. Subsequently, after the advent of Englishmen in India, they organized the game and made it popular in the country. Polo, as it is played now, was introduced to India and the world, allegedly by a British Cavalry Regiment and tea planters stationed in Manipur during the 1860s.

The IPA (Indian Polo Association) was made in 1892. There were many eminent polo teams at that time, such as the team of Alwar, Bhopal, Bikaner, Jaipur, Hyderabad, and many others as well. Whereas, the prominent amongst these teams were the Central India Horse (CHI), Prince Albert Victor Own Cavalry (PAVO’s Cav), the Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, the 10th Royal Hussars, the 15th Lancers, and the 17/21st Lancers.

Originally, Polo is a game of eastern origin, resembling hockey, played on horseback with a long-handled mallet. But, this definition is just a literal meaning of the game. Polo in India can be defined as an equestrian sport, which is played in numerous places across the country. It is, perhaps, one of the most ancient of all the sports in India.

It is rightly said that, “when history was a legend, polo was flourishing.” Further on, there is evidence on record to show that with the advent of the British Army in India, Polo in its modern form was introduced by the officers of a British Cavalry Regiment .Polo in its present form was introduced by the officers of a British Cavalry Regiment. Polo was then played on little ponies, as a result of which the game was not of high speed. Later, the international rules were framed, which all countries accepted.


History of polo choughan

The Persians were esteemed and well known for their prowess in horse racing, especially, in a type of polo known as ‘Chaugan.’ Contemporary Polo is visioned as an ancient pastime which was enjoyed by Persians in the primaeval period around 600 B.C. The prehistoric Persian Empire prospered briefly from 612 B.C.E to the defeat of Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.E. While, the inception of the sport is disputable, it is likely to begin in the 5th-century B.C.E in order to tutelage the soldiers about equestrian knowledge. Gradually, it evolved into a game, mainly, for the nobility. Through the 2nd half of the 4th century, since Alexander the Great got a mallet and a ball from Darius III, it became an innate part of the Persian society.


Image Credits: US Polo Assn

Somewhere in the winter of 1875-1876 a group of New Yorkers, decided that the newly rediscovered sport, Polo should become the latest fashion in town, as it was rapidly expanding in England at that time. This group of trendsetters was led by Leonard Jerome. Polo was first played in the United States in 1876. It was introduced by James Gordon Bennett Jr, who had first observed the game played in England. Bennett came to be known as the father of American Polo as he was the one who assembled the players, knowledge, equipment and Texas horses to play the first loosely structured matches in the United States. The first formal club established in the US was the Westchester Polo Club and the first polo game was held indoors at Dickel’s Riding Academy, New York.

On May 13, 1876, the Jerome Park Racetrack in Westchester County became the home for first outdoor polo match in the U.S. Meadowbrook became a polo club in 1879 and play began in the Mineola fairgrounds of Long Island. The Polo Association (later known as the United States Polo Association) was founded on March 21, 1990. H.L. Herbert served as the first chairman of the United States Polo Association.



“At the beginning of this century, one-fifth of the inhabitants of the globe were British subjects, while the Royal Navy policed the seas of the world. Throughout this vast empire, the rulers, everywhere a tiny minority among the ruled, were men who modified themselves on the tradition of the English gentleman.”

- Philip Mason

British settlers introduced all sports and games to Argentina. British settlers and managers who took along with their baggage some sporting equipment introduced the ancient game of Polo to the Argentine Republic. A letter to the editor of The Field in London regarding Polo in Argentina was first written in 1870. One of the precursors in the history of Polo in Argentina was the British Francis Balfour, who started practising the sport in 1890 prior to emigrating to Argentina, bringing his passion for the sport with him. Hurlingham Polo Club, one of the most important clubs in the history of Polo in Argentina was founded in 1888 by the Englishmen Campbell, Fortune, Ravenscroft and Robson. Hurlingham Polo Club was the first Polo Club winner of the .Argentine Open Polo tournament