Last Updated on August 21, 2023 by Allison Price
Imagine yourself standing on a nine-foot wide expanse of green grass. An athletic thoroughbred stands at your feet, ready to sprint into a gallop when you signal. Your left hand is threaded with two sets of reins, and your right holds four feet of bamboo. You and seven others rider a white plastic ball that you are hurling towards the goal at nearly 40 mph.
Summertime is filled with jumpers, racing and roping, as well as dressage and jumping. Polo is one discipline that flies under the radar, but it’s not the most well-known. Nina discovered that polo can be a very enjoyable sport. But how did it all begin? Isn’t it only the British royals who can afford it? People are cloning polo ponies. This is a quick overview of the sport to explain the how, when, where, and why of polo.
What is polo exactly?
Polo is a fast sport that involves horseback riding and using a mallet to strike a ball into a goal. Many people already know this. The rules for each sport vary, so it can be played on an arena or on a field. There are usually four players per team in field polo, which is the type we see Prince William and Harry play. Each chukker is a seven-minute period of play. After each chukker, riders swap their mounts. High goal matches, which usually consist of six chukkers, allow polo ponies to run up to two miles. They are always allowed to take a break after each match.
Polo is not limited to horseback. If horses seem too intimidating, there are also options for elephant polo and bike polo.
What year did it begin?
Polo is one of the oldest team sports in the world. Although the exact history of Polo is not known, it was likely started in Persia over 2,000 years ago by nomadic warriors who began to play the game as part sports and training for battle. It spread to eastern Asia, and even north India where westerners discovered it in the middle 1800’s.
Polo mania spread from India to England, Ireland, Argentina, Australia, and the United States. It was first introduced in 1869. In 1876, the Westchester Polo Club, New York, was the first American polo club. It later moved to Newport in Rhode Island.
An Indian Army polo team from Hyderabad, India in the early 1900’s. (photosofwar.net)
Polo tournaments can be found all around the globe. It is popular in Argentina and South Africa, China, South Africa (UK), Singapore, and the United States. Today, there are only seven active 10-goal polo players, which is the highest possible ranking. One from the United States; five from Argentina and one from Uruguay.
Why play polo?
In the world of polo, it’s a well-known fact that once you become addicted to the sport, it’s a lifelong addiction. What about polo?
It’s the thrill. Dan Keating stated that he started polo because he could not think of anything else while playing polo. Because the game is so addictive, it’s an amazing release of pressure.
(c) 2015 Matthew Atanian Photo/Newport Polo. All Rights Reserved. (c) 2015 Matthew Atanian Photo/Newport Polo. All Rights Reserved.
Keating started playing polo in 1988. In the creation of the Newport International Series, Keating brought polo back home to Rhode Island. Keating is a polo coach in Newport, where he also teaches private lessons and coaches teams at college and high school levels.
He said that the intense drive of polo players is quite unique because of its steep learning curve.
Keating stated that you must be a type A personality in order to pursue the sport. However, you have to also be willing to endure a year of incompetence.
But who plays? But isn’t this a sport for the wealthy?
Many people picture polo as gentlemen like Harry and Prince William galloping down beautiful fields while stately socialites sit on the sidelines. Although polo, like all disciplines of equestrian sport, has its costs, Keating stated that the most common misconception about polo is that it is difficult to access.
Princes William and Harry. Via dailymail.co.uk Harry and Prince William during a polo match earlier in the year. Via dailymail.co.uk
Keating stated that Newport Polo “tries make lessons as affordable as possible” in order to make the sport accessible to all who are interested.
Keating and his team also made it easy for people to get involved, without needing to buy their own pony string. They offer leasing options and weekend chukkers for those who have completed the lesson program.
Keating also stated that another common misconception about polo is that it is a “gentlemen’s sport.” He said that 25% of players are now women. This number is growing. Polo is the only professional contact co-ed sports.
Mark Patinkin, a Providence Journal columnist, summarized the appeal of polo in an article about trying this sport. He wrote that he was defeated at the end of his lesson. He was glad to get down on solid ground. Three days later, it was still sore.
He added, “But you want the strange thing about Polo?” “I want it to be done again.”