Polo is a spectator sport played on horseback in which teams attempt to score goals on either end of a field using mallets. The "Sport of Kings" was shared among nobility due to its popularity amongst Persian royalty. Polo has always had its place in historical prevalence in high society. Polo is a mixed-gender sport, and even in ancient times, it was played by both men and women.
Polo is believed to have originated from Central Asia about 600 years B.C. before being adopted and adapted by British imperialists in India during the 19th century A.D. Englishman Joseph Ford Sherer (known as the "father of modern polo") helped revive the sport after visiting a polo ground in India, and the British proceeded to spread the game throughout their former empire, where it is most popular today. Although its popularity peaked in earlier centuries, polo has undoubtedly grown in the past few decades.
Polo is played on a huge outdoor field (300 by 160 yards) with goalposts situated at each end.
Polo players are required to wear helmets and knee pads for protection. Each team has four riders and horses who work together to hit a wooden ball through the goal using mallets.
There are four general positions on the field for each team, but they are usually very flexible, and every player should be able to play every position.
The teams switch sides after a goal, and the game ends after the final chukkah, or period. The number of chukkahs in a match is predetermined and is usually from four to six. If teams are tied after the final chukkah, an extra is played until another goal is scored.
The game of polo first originated in Persia over 2000 years ago. However, this ancient game is very different than what we know it as today. The game began as a training exercise for the King's guards where over 200 players competed in a warlike setting. Soon it became a Persian national sport mainly played by high ranking members of society. Polo continued to spread throughout the Middle East and into Asia. The first modern polo games began in the 1860's where British soldiers stationed in India saw locals playing and used the game as training for cavalry riders. This version of Polo, more similar to today's game, had fewer players but still lacked simple rules and organization. When the soldiers brought the game back to England, it spread rapidly throughout Europe and into North and South America. Through the years the game of polo has modernized and developed into an internationally recognized sport enjoyed by millions.
Although commonly called ponies, players actually ride horses specifically bred for polo. They are fast, intelligent, and have extraordinary stamina. Players do not ride a specific horse, as the animals are switched out for every chukka in order to give the horses appropriate rest. For example, a game with 6 chukkas, over 50 horses will be used.
A goal is scored when a player hits the ball with his or her mallet through the goalposts. The team with the most goals at the end of the game wins. After every goal is scored, the two teams switch sides to prevent either team from receiving an advantage due to weather or field conditions.
For each team, there are 4 numbered players on the field, each with a different role. Position 1 and 2 are the forwards, whose main responsibilities are scoring. Position 3 is the pivot position, usually the most skilled player on the team who must balance offense and defense. Position 4 is the primary defender, who works to keep the opposing team from scoring. Players all wear helmets for safety reasons, and each has a mallet for striking the ball.
There are a few common fouls in polo. The first has to do with the concept of a player's right of way. All players have a right of way in front of their horse. Riding directly in the right of way of another player will result in a foul. Players are allowed to hook an opponent's stick as long as they are on the same side of the opponent's horse as the ball. A penalty is assessed if players illegally hook an opponent's stick. Riding alongside an opponent to knock him or her off the ball, commonly known as riding an opponent off, is tolerated in polo. However, if a player charges in from an angle, the play is considered dangerous and a penalty will be awarded. All fouls are up to the discretion of the two referees who are on horseback during the game. In the event of a disagreement, a third referee in the stands is consulted. A free hit is given to the team that was fouled. Based on the severity of the foul, the free hit will be taken from either 30, 40, or 60 yards away from the goal.
Because polo is such a niche sport, controversy is often shouldered in favor of sportsmanship. The most common fouls deal with the "line of the ball," which means the rider who is going straight toward the ball may not be thrown off course by another rider.