The attraction of polo is easy to understand. From Jilly Cooper to Pretty Woman, polo has been used as shorthand to suggest a glamorous, dangerous world of sleek horses and brooding players.
Traveling at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph), teams of four aim to drive the ball through a set of vertical posts to score a goal. Like all equestrian sports, men and women compete side-by-side, making it the only mixed sport which is also a contact sport: players can ‘ride off’ opponents by using their mount to steer the other player out of the way.
Around 3,000 people in the UK currently play polo, of which fewer than 10% are professionals, according to the Hurlingham Polo Association, the governing body for polo in the UK. Polo players are rated on a scale of -2 to 10 according to their skill, where 10 is the highest rating possible. Although expressed in ‘goals’, a player’s handicap is not an estimate of the number of goals a player might score in a given match, but rather an overall measure of his or her horsemanship, skill and strategy. It is so difficult to reach 10 there have never been more than a dozen or so 10-goalers in the world at any time. Almost all 10-goalers, past and present, have hailed from Argentina.
A polo game has periods of play, known as chukkas (also chukkers). Depending on the rules of the particular tournament or league, a game may have 4 to 8 chukkas; 4 chukkas are most common in low goal and 6 chukkas in high goal. Usually each chukka is 7 minutes long, but with the clock stopping when there is a foul the chukka frequently lasts twice that long. Even so, it never feels like long enough when you are playing.
Polo is a fast and fun ball game that combines equestrian skills with team play. It can be frustrating when beginning the sport, requiring lots of practice to develop the horsemanship skills and repertoire of shots needed to play the game. But this is one of the reasons why the sport is so addictive – if you want to have fun and enjoy a challenge then polo will appeal to you.