With the summer season at an end polo now switches from grass to the arena. Most clubs start their winter season at the beginning of October.
The arena has a different playing surface and smaller pitch size to grass polo, and the game has been adapted from the traditional sport to suit these changes. It is a fast-paced version played outside on an enclosed all-weather surface or an indoor arena. The surface is frequently a combination of sand, silicon, fibre and rubber surrounded by solid wooden fencing. Horses that have short bursts of speed and the ability to turn and manoeuvre sharply suit arena polo more than grass polo.
Regulated by the HPA (Hurlingham Polo Association), arena polo has its own rules published in the ‘green book’. The rules are very similar to those of outdoor grass polo (published in the ‘blue book’) with the main differences accounting for the presence of the walls surrounding the playing area. In a match there is normally an umpire in the arena and a referee on the side line enforcing the rules.
The sport is played on a space 100 yards by 50 yards wide which is fully enclosed by walls of four or more feet tall and is normally floodlit to cater for the shorter length of day in winter. The goals are at either end of the arena, an area 10 foot wide by 15 foot high. Normally the wall is slightly recessed and painted white to indicate the goal area. If the top of the goal is higher than the wall it is completed with a net, posts and a crossbar. In arena polo it is important not to hit the ball too high whereas in grass polo there is no height limit to the size of the goal. A typical game consists of four chukkas (or periods) of six and a half minutes each. Normally the arena surface is rolled every couple of chukkas to re-flatten the surface; this is the arena equivalent of the treading in and divot stomping that spectators are invited to participate in at half time in an outdoor polo match. The ball has the same characteristics as a mini football, being larger and softer than the hard plastic ball used in outdoor polo.
An arena polo team is made up of three players, meaning the whole team has to commit to either attack or defence, quickly switching between the two. The pace of the game is quite fast, with the ball frequently changing direction and being bounced off the walls of the arena. The game does not stop when a goal is scored; the team that scored immediately give up the ball and turn to defend. Teams do not change ends when they score. Ends only change at the end of the chukka. Games can be very physical, and because of the smaller size of the playing field, opponents are almost always in close proximity. Players that enjoy arena polo are typically those who do not shy away from physical contact. Arena polo is very fan friendly because the action is contained in a smaller area. Many clubs have viewing platforms and some have enclosed viewing galleries which makes spectating a more pleasant experience as arena polo is played in all weathers!
Arena polo also makes a great introduction for beginners and novice players. The enclosed environment gives the new rider confidence the horse will not run away with them, and the smaller area makes it easier for the instructor to stay in close contact for teaching them. For those advancing to instructional chukkas you will find the smaller team and ‘field’ size means you increase your participation and will get more opportunities to play the ball. Arena polo is a lot of fun, will keep you riding and fit over the winter, and by taking some lessons will improve your polo for the summer season. Arena lessons are available through Ryan’s Polo Academy.