A Complete Guide to Polo
A pristine landscape, strong and robust horses racing across with strong, athletic riders who have a strong sense of direction, and who seem extremely ambitious and full of purpose as they compete with other riders on a lush green field! Have we painted the picture right? This is perhaps what comes to one’s mind when they think of the majestic sport, Polo.
Besides the royal aura that the sport emanates, Polo is an ancient game that has been enjoyed by the royalty and is taken up by those who have a profound love for anything that spells grandeur and finesse!
Polo In A Nutshell
Polo is essentially a game that is played on horseback in teams of 2 and with 4 riders on each side who use a long plastic mallet to tackle a ball and shoot it in the opponent team’s goal post.
The sport is governed by the Federation of International Polo that promotes the game globally and conducts prestigious championships and tournaments in various countries including India, England, Argentina, U.S, Ireland, Thailand and Germany.
From General Chanda Singh and H.H Maharaja Sawai Man Singh to Samir Suhag and Dhruvpal Godara, Indian polo players have created a noteworthy place for themselves in this sport and have excelled in the game tremendously.
How Would You Describe Polo?
Polo is an age old team sport that is played on horseback using a long handled mallet which is made out high density plastic. The sole purpose of the game is to score goals against the opposing team. Polo players score goals by manoeuvring a small plastic ball, and by shooting it in the opposing team’s goal post.
A traditional match of polo consists of two teams with 4 players and mounts on each side. The game is played on a grassy field which is usually 300 by 160 yards.
Even though polo is not recognized as an Olympic sport, the Federation of International Polo (FIP) organizes events and championships that take place in several countries like Argentina, Austria, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, England, Malaysia, Pakistan, India and America. India in particular is referred to as the ‘cradle of modern polo’ and has given this sport some astounding polo riders like General Chanda Singh, H.H Maharaja Sawai Mansigh, and Samir Suhag.
Overview and History Of Polo
- A polo match is essentially played in 2 teams where riders mount on horses and use long handled mallets to tackle a ball and shoot it in the opposition team’s goal post.
- The sport is centuries old, but has evolved in many ways over the last several years. Polo is typically considered to be an elite sport, and even though the game has had its ups and downs in the Indian context, it has retained its regal status and popularity.
- According to archaeological and historical evidence, the origin of polo can be traced back to 6th century B.C, when it was first conceptualized in Persia. Shahpur II who was a Persian emperor popularized the game, after which many other empires caught on and glorified the sport further.
- It was not till the 16th century that polo was passed on from Persia to other parts of Asia, including India and China. In fact, different scenes have been depicted on Chinese paintings, and statues have been found indicating the fact that polo was certainly a popular game amongst the royals of those times.
- Besides China, polo was also very popular in Tibet, and it is believed that the name polo comes from the Tibetan word “pulu”, which in literal translation means ball.
- Although the basic essence of the game had remained intact throughout, it was Manipur, India where the idea of modern polo found its roots. In this region, the game was also known as “Sagol Kangjej” or “Kanjai-bazee”.
- With the passage of time, polo spread across to other western continents including the United Kingdom and America, and became a popular sport amongst the upper classes and those who belonged to the royalty.
- In India, the first polo club was set up in the town of Silchar, Assam in the year 1833, although the oldest polo ground is located in Imphal, Manipur. In 1862, a polo club was established in Calcutta by two British soldiers Sherer and Captain Robert Stewart, and the game then spread to other cities including Jaipur, Delhi and Mumbai.
- In 1900, Polo was played as a part of Summer Olympics and now, it is no more a part of Olympics, but water Polo is played.
- A noteworthy transition in Indian polo happened when the game was readily adopted by Indian Army officials who made it a popular game within their circuit. This was perhaps due to their easy access to horses and large fields which encouraged sporting events and championships throughout the country.
- Formerly, polo was considered to be an Olympic sport, but is not any more.
Rules Of Polo
- A game of polo is played between two teams that have four players on each side.
- A traditional polo match lasts for about 2 hours and is divided into periods known as ‘chukkas’, or ‘chukkers’.
- The respective members on each team are designated with the title “Attack” or “Defense”.
- The rules have been made keeping the rider and the horse’s safety in mind.
- The basic concept of the game revolves around the line of the ball, which is a right of way established by the trail of a travelling ball. In simple terms, it is the imaginary line that is formed from the time the ball is struck in the air.
- During the game, if the rider has the line of ball on his right side, he has the right of way, and this can be contested by the other player, as he has the right to take that line away by initiating a shoulder to shoulder contact.
- Taking away the right of way can be done by hooking an opponent’s mallet, by pushing him off the line, bumping into his horse, or by stealing the ball away from him.
- While keeping a count of the score, the umpire’s job is to keep a track of the right of way and the line of the ball.
- The rider who strikes the ball in the end is the one who has the right of way, and no other player is then supposed to cross the line of the ball in front of that respective player.
- However, riding alongside the rider in order to block his way or hook the mallet is allowed, as long as the rider with the right of way does not face any hindrance.
- The mounts in polo are referred to as ‘polo ponies’, and even though the term pony is based on the traditional understanding of the game, mounts are full grown horses. They weigh around 1000 pounds (approximately 500 kg), and are groomed extensively for this particular sport.
- The polo ponies are taken through an extensive selection criterion, where they are judged on stamina, speed, agility, and their ability to tackle and manoeuvre. Besides this, the horse’s temperament is also crucial to the selection process, as the horse needs to be very responsive, and should not get too out of bound or excited in high pressure situations during the course of the game.
- In Polo, there are 4 players on each team. The number one player is the one who stays in the offence position, and keeps a track of the number 4 player from the opposition team.
- The number 2 player plays a significant role in offence and either runs to make scores, or trails behind number 1. Defensively, they cover the opposing team’s number 3 which most of the times is the best player on the opposition team.
- Number 3 is the leader of the pack, and is generally a good hitter and maintains a strong defense. Lastly, number 4 is a primary defense player, and is allowed to move anywhere on the field, although they are supposed to prevent the other team from scoring.
Certain aspects of Polo that one must keep in mind while playing:
- Ride Offs – Riding off or bumping is permitted as long as the angle of attack is less than 45 degrees. During this time, contact must be made between the horse’s hip and shoulder.
- Hooks – A player is allowed to block or hook another player’s mallet with his own, but no forceful contact is allowed between the players.
- Safety – The rider can only hold the mallet in the right hand. Players who are left handed generally do not have good tackling techniques and hit with less accuracy. However, these players tend to guide their horses in a better way.
- As far as the scoring process is concerned, polo players score one point for hitting the ball between the two goal posts. This also includes penalty, defended, and undefended shots.
- Unlike other sports such as Football, Hockey or Basketball where spotting a foul is easy and obvious, with polo one cannot always tell, and fouls are often difficult to distinguish. Unfair or dangerous play can only be detected by the umpire, and when that happens, the given penalty depends on the severity of the foul, and where the foul took place on the polo field. The white lines on the polo field signify where the mid-field, sixty, forty, and thirty yard penalties are taken.
Specifications Of Polo
- The most distinct part of the polo sport dress is the Equestrian helmet which usually has a noticeable color, and a pair of sturdy riding boots that are supposed to be just below the knee. The riders wear white trousers and a colored shirt which bears the number of the player’s position.
- An optional part of the equipment or dress includes gloves, wristbands, kneepads (which are mandatory in certain designated polo clubs), spurs, whip and a face mask.
- The polo ball is made out of high impact plastic, although formerly it was made out of either wood or bamboo. The ball is supposed to be 3 1⁄4 inches in diameter and weighs around 4 ounces.
- The mallet used in polo was earlier made out of wood or bamboo, but in current times is made out of plastic which has high density and impact. The mallet comes with a rubber grip and a webbed thong, which is called a sling and is wrapped around the thumb, along with the shaft which is made out of manau-cane.
- The polo saddles are made in the traditional English style, which has a flat seat and no knee support. Double reins are used in polo in order to obtain greater accuracy or signals from other riders.
- The polo field is usually 300 by 160 yards, and the grass is carefully maintained and mowed on a regular basis in order to provide the players with a fast playing surface. The goals are set in posts which are set 8 yards apart from each other, and are centred at each end of the field.
- During half time, the viewers of the game are invited on to the polo field for an age old tradition which is known as ‘divot-stamping. This is where spectators stamp on the mounds of earth created by the horse’s hooves during the game. This is a fun activity where people socialize and take walks along the field.
Governing Bodies Of Polo
The Federation of International Polo was established in 1983, and has its headquarters in Beverley Hills, USA. FIP represents more than 80 countries that play polo and also organizes large scale tournaments and championships the world over.
The Indian Polo Association is the governing body for all polo related tournaments and championships in India. The IPA was founded in 1892, and is registered under the Societies Registration Act XXI of 1860 and Act 1957 which covers the Union Territory of Delhi.
The main tasks carried out by this governing body are to govern the game of polo in India, to publicize the game in collaboration with the Federation of International polo, and to promote the game on both national and international levels.
Till the year 2015, the IPA has received 4 trophies that includes the ‘The President’s Cup’, the IPA Championship, Indian Master’s Cup, and the Junior National Championship cup.
Important Championships In Polo
On An International Level
World Polo Championship – This championship takes place between several countries, and is organized by the Federation of International Polo. This championship is primarily contested by the men’s national team across different countries who qualify, and takes place once in 3 or 4 years. The first tournament was held in 1987 which was hosted by Argentina. In the year 2015, India ranked number 1.
On A Domestic Level
Indian Polo Association Championship – This is perhaps one of the most prestigious polo tournaments that takes place in India every two years.
The IPA Championship first started in 1900, and has been a coveted tournament where the best Indian polo players come together and display their talent and skill in the sport. In 2013, the Sahara Warriors won against the Jindal Panthers where the score was 7 to 8.
Bhopal Pataudi Polo Cup – Named after the late sportsmen and Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, the Bhopal Pataudi club was first established in 1996, when the Nawab presented the trophy to the Army Polo Riding Club in Bhopal. Since then the tournament takes place every year. Besides being a great cricketer, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi had a keen interest in polo since his father Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi was an avid polo player.
The Indian Master’s Championship – This tournament was first introduced in 2012, and the first one was sponsored by the Equisport Management Pvt Ltd. The first game was played in Delhi, and five major teams participated, out of which the Sahara Warriors won the tournament.
Famous Personalities In Polo
Samir Suhag – A well known face in the Indian as well as international polo arena, Samir Suhag has won the prestigious Arjuna award for his contribution and skill in polo, and has won various titles and trophies in the last several years. Despite being a popular game the world over, polo is considered to be a niche game, and Samir Suhag is one distinguished polo player who has promoted the game throughout India, and has instilled passion in many young and novice polo players who wish to make a mark for themselves in this sport.
General Chanda Singh – Born in a small village near Amritsar, General Chanda Singh was perhaps one of India’s greatest polo players who played till the age of 58 and led the Patiala team to various victories and trophies under his guidance and superb skill. In 1909, Chanda Singh sailed to Europe and won the polo championship of England at Ranelagh and Rochampton. Thereafter, King Alphonso of Spain requested Chanda Singh to play in the Spanish Polo Championship, and due to the General’s skill and excellent ability to tackle the ball, the team won the tournament.
H.H Maharaja Sawai Man Singh – The last ruling Maharaja of Jaipur, H.H Maharaja Sawai Man Singh was a passionate polo player who won several distinguished trophies for India at the Polo World Cup in 1933. Despite his great fervour and excellence in the game, the energetic and highly skilled polo player had a fatal accident while playing the sport and died in the year 1970.
Dhruvpal Godara – The 21st century star in Indian polo, Dhruvpal Godara started playing at a young age under the guidance of his elder brother Manupal Godara, who is a well known polo player as well. He is considered to be a rather aggressive player, but displays immense control and skill with all his moves and tackling techniques on the field. Dhruv Pal played his first polo match in Calcutta and won the tournament for the Oberoi team along with his brother Manupal, and till the year 2015 he has won many tournaments and championships on a national level.
Do you have an interesting story to share that revolves around Polo? Or do you have a child who aspires to be the next big Polo player? If so, then our experts at YoGems can help guide the way in this sport, and enable your child to achieve his or her dream!