Polo is one of the oldest sports in the world. It has its origin in the rough and tumble horseback games played by Mongols on the steppes of Asia. Fierce warriors would race up and down a field on tough little ponies, struggling for control of a goat’s carcass or in more gruesome tales, they would use the heads of their enemies.
When the British ruled India, they picked up the game from the native population and turned it into its current, civilized form, complete with white pants on all the players. Instead of wrestling over a goat, the players now used long bamboo mallets to strike a wooden ball between goal posts. The name of the sport derives from the word pulu, which is the Tibetan word for ball.
Today’s game of Polo features two teams of four players mounted on horseback compete to score the most goals by striking a wooden or plastic ball with a mallet through goalposts at each end of the field. The field is 300 yards by 160 yards, the goalposts at each end of the field are spaced 8 yards apart. The players are constantly in motion, only stopping play for the end of a chukker (a chukker being the 7:30 minute period of play)or a foul, much like soccer or hockey.
Polo is very international sport. Often the players on a team, particularly at the high goal level, might be from four different countries. Argentina dominates the ranks of high rated players, but the US, England, Mexico, and South Africa also produce many talented players. Polo also draws a very unique type of player: many captains of industry and finance are drawn to the speed and power of the game and the opportunity to play on the team they are sponsoring.
Polo is unique to team sports for the partnership between human and horse. Most polo horses are Thoroughbred or Argentine, although any breed can play if they have the athletic ability and the mind. Training polo ponies is a long process, usually taking two to three years until the horse is “made” and can compete in tournament polo without further training. Polo ponies can have long careers, and some of the experienced horses are very canny and anticipate the game as well or better than the human players. Players will tell you that horses are 80% of the game and good polo players are constantly searching for talented horses.