What is polo?

Polo - Grand Champions Polo Club Palm Beach

Polo is for many known as “The Sport of Kings and the King of Sports”. For others it’s known from that scene in the movie “Pretty Woman”, and for some as the famous clothing brand from Ralph Lauren and a t-shirt with a collar.

Horse Polo is said to be one of the oldest team sports in the world, signs of the sport have been found in ancient Persian records from around 2500 years ago, where they called the sport “Chaughan”. However the origins of the name for the sport has been traced to Tibet, where it was called “Pulu” meaning willow which the ball was originally made of.

The first polo club was founded in Manipur (Burma) in 1862. Today polo is officially played in more than 80 countries and the polo tournaments calendar is very busy, with year-round high-goal tournaments to low-goal “for-show” events around the world.

To fully understand polo and all the rules can take some time and there are differences between outdoor grass polo, arena, beach and snow polo, but the general and basic elements of the game, are as following:

  • The very first rule that all other rules are based on is safety, for the horse and for the player, not allowing dangerous moves, crossing the opponent’s line of play results in a foul stopping the game and depending on the severity of the foul the game will start again from that point, or a penalty shot will be awarded from the 60-, 40- or 30-yard line.
  • There are 4 players on each team, mounted on horses with a mallet (a bamboo stick with a wooden head) in their right hand and steering the horse with their left hand. In arena, beach and snow polo there are only 3 players per team as the field is much smaller.
  • The players are ranked on a handicap system from -2 up to 10 (top professional players, less than 100 players have been rated 10 since the creation of the handicap system in 1888)
  • For the team’s handicap all player’s handicaps are added, when talking about a 20-goal tournament it means that each team has a total handicap of 20.
  • The teams play for periods of 7 minutes called “chukker” plus a 30 second buffer, a full game can be between 4 and 8 chukkers and players must switch horses between every chukker, so one horse does not play for more than 7,5 minutes.
  • A polo field is 160 yards wide and 300 yards long, making it the largest field in organized sport, you can fit 9 football fields inside a polo field.
  • The team scores by hitting the ball through the opponent’s goal, and after each score the teams switch field sides to make the game fair.

There are also many polo events around the world, where the purpose of the game is to have a fun day out, promoting polo but not necessarily to challenge the players’ horsemanship and skills, the rules are changed slightly to make it easier for the crowd to follow. Teams will have 3 players each, a maximum of 4 chukkers are played, the field is much smaller and they do not switch goals every time a team scores, but only at half-time. More information about the rules of the game can be found at the official polo associations’ websites:







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6 Responses

  1. Dann says:

    Hi, this is a really nice article about the important things to know about polo!
    I’m from Argentina so i would like to share with you our rules too (you can find it in here http://aapolo.com/institucional/reglamento) I saw that you visited the country and went to the Palermo Open, it’s such a great tournament!!!
    Hope to read more of your passion for polo!!

    • Diana says:

      Hi Dann, Thank you for your comment and for sharing the AAPolo site! I did live there for 6 months and it was amazing, I hope to go back this year for the Palermo Open once more!

  2. Knotty says:

    I am based in Bangkok. You can follow our activities at: https://www.facebook.com/GrandtouringPolo

    Look out for announcements of our future events soon. Maybe you can join us then!

  3. Diana says:

    Hi Knotty,
    Great to connect with other polo lovers! Where in Thailand are you based?? I would love to come visit when I find myself nearby, which you never know when could be 🙂

  4. Knotty says:

    Thanks for sharing your love for polo. Myself and my polo friends just started playing in Thailand just 18 months ago with only several players & this was our first official match: http://youtu.be/tIreLn-LH5o

    This past year we have grown into a community of amateur players and this was what I organized last November: http://youtu.be/azBMy24lWQU

    Maybe you can join us some day!


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