Polo, often referred to as “The Sport of Kings” is played on a large grass field measuring 300 yards long by 150 yards wide (nine American football fields would fit in one polo field!) Each team consists of 4 players and their horses. The game (or match-both terms are used) lasts about two hours and is divided into six 7-minute periods called chukkers (or Chukkas outside the U.S.).
The horses are referred to as ‘polo ponies’, even though they are full-sized horses, ranging from 14.2 to 16 hands high at the withers, and weigh 900–1100lbs. Most are Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses.
Each player brings 8-10 horses to the field per game, so there are anywhere from 70-84 horses present at any high-goal match-more when you include the 4 umpire horses (the two umpires on the field each change horses at half-time). Typically, players change horses in between chukkers, before that if the horse is fatigued.
Tournaments are assigned goal levels. In a 20-goal tournament for example, this means that the handicaps of the four players on each team add up to 20 (or below). This keeps teams competitive and even, but because player handicaps change from year to year, team members also change frequently.
A “throw-in” by an umpire puts the ball in play, and once a goal is scored, play changes direction so that no team has an unfair advantage (i.e. wind, sun, etc). There are rules about how play is conducted, and the umpires are there to regulate the play. Players must hold their mallets in their right hands. Goals can be scored at any height as long as the ball is between the two goal posts. A “flagger” standing behind the goal either waves a flag back and forth up in the air (this mean a goal has been scored), or the flagger waves the flag back and forth near the ground (which means the ball went over the back line outside of the goal mouth). The score at the end of the sixth chukker determines the winner. If tied, a seventh chukker will be played until either team scores a goal, at which point that team wins.
The highest level of polo played in the United States is 22-goal, and is played during February, March and April at the International Polo Club in Palm Beach. Argentina is the mecca for polo and Buenos Aires hosts the highest level and most prestigious tournament in the world, the Argentine Open, a 40-goal tournament played during November and December of every year.
For more information and a history of polo, click here.