The Game of Polo.
A polo game is played between two teams with four players on each side. The members are designated as “attack” or “defense” and each has the job of furthering their own goal tally while preventing the other side from scoring. Most of the rules were established to keep the riders and horses, often called ponies, safe. The game begins when the two teams line up opposite each other and an umpire throws a ball in down the gap between the two teams. (Throw-ins occur to begin a match, after a goal has been scored and to resume play after a time out/discrepancy.)
The line of the ball is a “right of way” established by the path of a traveling ball. Right of way occurs when a player has the line of the ball on his right; the player who struck the ball last has right of way. Riding alongside a player with the right of way is permitted, as long as his way is not hindered. The umpire primarily looks out for right of way and the line of the ball.
Teams change ends after each goal is scored to account for any wind or ground advantage which may exist.
Four players are on each team. Each player has a handicap ranging from minus two to ten goals that reflects how good they are. A team’s handicap is the total of these ratings. If the two teams have different handicaps then goals are awarded to the lower handicapped team at the start of the game to compensate them for the difference; the scoreboard may show a team has a half goal or more lead before the ball has been thrown in. Each player wears a numbered jersey, one through four, which generally indicates their position and responsibilities on the field.
• One – Mainly concerned with goal scoring – often played by the lowest handicapped player on the team.
• Two – Scorer, but greater defensive responsibilities than Number One.
• Three – Adept at scoring, playing defense and determining the strategy. Generally the team’s best player and captain.
• Four – Mainly a defensive player.
A polo match is divided into seven-minute time periods called chukkers. The game is approximately one hour for a four chukker game, and one and a half hours long for six chukkers. The clock is stopped whenever the umpire blows his whistle, restarting when play resumes. A bell is rung when seven minutes have been played, but play can continue for an additional thirty seconds, stopping if a goal is scored, foul committed or the ball hits the boards/goes out of play. The last chukker ends on the first bell unless the teams are drawn. There are six chukkers in a high-goal match. Breaks between chukkers are three minutes long, with a 15-minute halftime when the spectators are invited to tread in the divets.
Players score by hitting the ball through the opposing team’s goal. The ball can pass above the height of the posts, as long as it is deemed to have traveled between them, to count.
All players are assigned a handicap. Handicaps go from minus two to ten goals and are determined by competition committees in the countries where the players compete. There are only twelve or so ten goalers in the world. Players must hit right-handed for safety reasons.
The mounts are full-size horses, ranging in size from 14.2 to 16 hands high at the withers, or horse’s shoulders, (one hand equals four inches) and weigh between 900 and 1100 lbs. Many polo ponies are thoroughbreds or thoroughbred crosses. They play for a maximum of two non-consecutive chukkers per match.
Two mounted umpires control the game; a midfield referee steps in when the umpires disagree. A flagman is positioned behind each goal; he indicates when a goal is scored by waving the flag above his head.
Fouls and Penalties
The umpires generally call fouls for dangerous riding or use of the mallet. Penalty for a foul can be anything from a free hit, to a free goal for the opposing team. The umpire decides where the penalty will be taken from, but frequently the ball is placed 60, 40 or 30 yards from the goal. The penalties that are further from the goal can be defended by the opposing team. If the defending team hit the ball over their own back line a ‘safety 60′ is awarded to the attacking team; this is a free hit from the 60 yard line opposite where the ball went out of play. It is the polo equivalent to a corner in football.
A player may use his mallet to block or interfere with an opponent’s swing by hooking the other player’s mallet. This is only allowed when a player is on the side where the swing is occurring or directly behind their opponent. Hooking above shoulder height is not allowed.
A bump, or ride-off, is used to break an opponent’s concentration, move him off the line of the ball or ruin his shot. When one player rides his pony alongside and physically connects with his opponent to lead him away from the ball, it is called a ride-off. A ride-off is permissible at no greater than 30-degree angle and at the horse’s shoulder.
Polo fields are 300 yards long and 160 yards wide. An eight-yard wide goal, marked by ten-foot high goal posts, is centered on each end of the field.