Polo Basics

Polo is a team game like no other. Although the basic pattern is much like ice hockey, soccer, lacrosse or basketball, it takes two heads, six legs and a pair of arms to play polo.

The fact that the player holds a mallet in one hand and accurately manipulates a 4 1/4 inch ball seven feet away from his shoulder with a hitting surface the size of a pineapple renders the game difficult, but not necessarily unique.


Polo is such a fast and fluid game that it makes team play an enormous accomplishment when compared with other sports. The most important ingredient for a player is anticipation. Just as in ice hockey, anticipation makes the big difference.

What makes polo so truly unique is, of course, the horse. It isn’t just equestrian skill, it’s the horse as a being, as an independent ego and ultimately, in the purest form as an alternate ego. The horse is as great a challenge as the game itself, in fact, the two cannot be separated.

Team Sport

Eight players on eight horses combining stunt riding with a juggling act. The objective though, is not a mere show of skill, it’s winning the game. It is that competitive desire that drives these players and brings out that sharpened ability; that ability which tests their balance to the extreme and heightens their reflexes and courage to where danger is repeatedly challenged, yet defied over and over again.

Two major concepts are the keys to making sense of a polo game and enjoying it too. One is the underlying philosophy, and the other is a technical feature of the game. The principle is that polo– good polo, is a team sport! The technical concept is the “line of the ball.”

The principle governing the rules of the game is safety. The impact of two 1,000 pound horses colliding at full gallop is something to be avoided at all costs. Even the most responsive horse cannot abruptly halt from a fast gallop to avoid a collision, let alone when a rider is not aware of another horse coming.

line of the ball

If players were permitted to approach the ball from any and all directions, there would be none left to play the game. Imagine an unmarked four-way intersection with cars just speeding though and you can see what we mean.

The line of the ball becomes the sacred principle behind the rules. It is the imaginary line that the ball creates as it travels. The line remains set until the ball changes direction and a new line is formed. A line may only be violated or crossed when there is no safety consideration involved. The umpires, guided by the Rule Book, are the sole judges of all such situations.

The “line of the ball” is the path the player travels to either reach a ball or meet it. When two players ride to the ball, both hoping to hit it, one forward and the other backward, they must ride either side of the line so that both will have access to the ball. When two players ride to the ball from opposing directions, they can only hit the ball on their right (off) side, and that way they remain on different sides of the line to hit the ball.

my string of polo ponies

At times the ball might change directions so quickly that a player might become confused as the the exact line. Or, a player, because of poor horse control, or improper judgment, might cross the line; or a player might err by thinking he has time to cross the line without endangering an oncoming player. In all of these cases, the umpire will blow his whistle for a foul. Depending on the severity of the infraction and the danger factor, a free hit is awarded to the fouled team from as close as 15 yards toward an undefended goal to as far away as 25 yards.

An outdoor polo game consists of four chukkers which each last seven minutes. A different horse is used for each chukker, thus the term “my string of ponies”.