Polo is a ball game played on horseback. There are two competing teams. The aim is to score points by shooting the ball through the opponent’s goal. The team with the higher score wins.
Polo Ponies : Although they are not recognized as a distinct breed, polo ponies are truly unique horses that combine the traits of a number of breeds. Next to a player's skills, the polo pony is the most important factor in polo. And, many times, the pony is the single greatest determinant of the outcome of a match.
The horses played in Polo are called ponies, although their sizes vary a lot.
A polo field has a maximum size of 276 metres long and 170 metres wide. The distance between the two goal posts is 7.3 metres. The posts are 3 metres high and not connected. For security reasons they aren’t anchored in the ground so that they can fall over in case of a collision.
The polo mallet(stick) is made of bamboo or willow wood and has a wooden head, the so-called cigar. The stick must be held in the right hand. Its length depends on the size of the horse and the player's technique. The ball is made of plastic, has a diameter of 10 centimetres and weighs 130 grams.
Every polo team consists of 4 players. Each player is given a number according to his or her role in the team. Number 1 is head of attack and covers number 4 of the opponents. Number 2 can be described as shadow of opponent number 1. This player brings dynamics in the attacks and also covers opponent number 3. Number 3 is the actual playmaker and usually the strongest player of the team. His or her main task is to control the flow of the game. This position covers number 2 of the opposing team and constantly changes position from offensive to defensive with the team members number 2 and 4. Number 4 stands for defence or the back of the field. This player basically stays in the rearmost position and covers opponent number 1.
Each player has an individual handicap decided by a national commitee. It is assigned to the players every season according to their skills. The criteria include position play, hitting techniques, team play and - above all - horse riding skills. Handicaps range from -2 to +10. Around 90% of all polo players have a handicap within -1 and +2 or +3. This is the point where the world of professional polo begins. Among these roughly 1,000 pro players there are only 60 cracks worldwide with a handicap of 8, 9 or 10. The handicap level of a team is the total of all individual teamplayer’s handicaps. If teams of different strength compete, the difference of handicap points (also half points) is added to the number of goals of the weaker team in advance.
The game consists of various parts (chukkas). In Europe there are normally 4 chukkas, in the US and Latin America 6 to 8. Each chukka lasts 7 minutes, excluding interruptions. A klaxon signals the end of the chukka. After the first signal the play can continue for another 30 seconds until a second last signal. The game can also end after the first signal if a goal is shot or if the referee stops the game because of a foul or so on. The last chukka of the game always ends right after the first signal.
The game has 2 Umpires on horses on the field. If the umpires disagree, the tournament referee takes the decision. Fouls are punished with penalty shots. The distance to the goal (30/40/60 yards) and whether or not the goal is defended depends on how severe the foul is. At the beginning of each game and after a goal-shot the two teams have to be positioned along the centre line. One of the umpires throws the ball onto the field between the teams.
Every time a goal is scored the teams change sides. This rule can be traced back to the fact that British colonial players used to play polo in the evenings when the air had cooled down. Out of fairness they decided to change sides so that both teams had to play against the sun.