An Introduction to the Game of Polo
Duration of Play
There are 4 to 6 ‘chukkas’ in a match and each one lasts for 7 minutes of actual play. At present, though due to change, when the ball goes out of play, or the whistle is blown, the clock is stopped and only restarted when the umpire calls ‘Play’. At the end of the period a bell goes to signify that the 7 minutes are up, however there is a further 30 seconds of play unless the whistle is blown, the ball hits the boards, or the ball goes out of play. This extra 30 seconds does not apply to the last chukka unless the scores are equal.
Play starts with the umpire throwing in the ball between the two teams lined up in front of him. In the same way play is restarted after a goal is scored or if the ball goes out over the side boards. If the ball goes over the back line there is a hit-in by the defenders. There is no offside in polo nor is there a corner, instead a 60 yd hit from the back line is taken by the attacking side opposite where the ball went out of play.
Polo is probably the only game in which the teams change ends when a goal is scored, thus equalling out any ground or weather advantage.
A polo player must have a helmet, with or without a visor, knee guards, and a polo stick. The ball is hit with the side of the stick not the end of the mallet as in croquet. The stick is pliable and hits of up to 100 – 150 yards are not unknown.
The ball is no longer made of bamboo except in certain parts of India. It is now made of plastic and is 3.5 inches in diameter and weighs 4.5 ounces, still remarkably hard if it hits you.
A player may challenge an opposing player by riding him off whether he is about to hit the ball or not. He may also hook the opponent’s stick just as they are about to hit the ball, providing it is done on the same side as the ball. In riding off, a player can prevent an opponent taking an active part, however the angle of the ‘bump’ must not be dangerous to either player or pony.
Control of the Game
Two mounted umpires control the game. After they have blown their whistle for an infringement they often consult each other on the severity of the foul.
Polo is a fast and often dangerous game and the rules are designed for the safety of both the players and their ponies. The three main aspects are:
The Right of Way
The main rule in polo is that the player on the line of the ball, or the imaginary line along which the ball travels, has the right of way and may only be challenged by being ridden off, or having his stick hooked. A player riding along the line of the ball in the opposite direction may, if it is not dangerous, hit the ball provided it is the corresponding forehand or backhand as the original player. This rule can generally be compared with a dual carriageway with the central reservation being the line of the ball. There are strict rules covering the entry into that right of way and the severity of any infringement governs the severity of the penalty awarded.
A free hit towards goal is set from distance by the umpire following a foul, these penalties are range from automatic goal to 30,40,60 yard hits or a spot.
The Polo Team
A polo team consists of four players. Each player is handicapped from -2 to 10 (the best). The sum of the player’s handicaps is the team handicap and the difference (a complicated calculation) can mean a handicap goal advantage to one team.
Normally the No l is the attacker, No 2 is also an attacker but is the stronger player, No 3 is a mid field player and the best player on whom the team revolves and No 4 is the back and main defender. You will often see the No 3 or 4 attacking through the field to score a goal. Players must play right-handed.
The Polo Pony
There used to be a height restriction which is why they are still called ponies, however the average height is between 15 and 16 hands. Some of the best polo ponies come from the Argentine where the Criollo breed’s qualities excel for speed, stamina, and agility.
The ideal situation is to have a pony for each chukka, and this is frequently the case in the high goal matches. In low goal matches many players manage on 2 or 3 ponies which they ‘double chukka’ however they do have to give them a rest of at least one chukka in between. Players may ride off to change their pony at any time, and play is not automatically stopped unless there is some fault with the saddlery when continuing play would be dangerous.