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PLAYING THE GAME

Polo is simple. Four mounted players make up a team. These players meet on a manicured grass field. The first objective of the game is to hit the ball (made of hard plastic and about 3 ½ inches in diameter) through a set of posts marking a goal 8 yards wide. Players use mallets made of a cane shaft and a wooden head, ranging from 48 to 54 inches long. They must carry these mallets in their right hands—playing left-handed is no longer allowed. The head of the polo mallet is shaped roughly like a cigar. Players hit the ball with the side of the head, not with the end.

 

The second objective is to prevent members of the opposing team from hitting the ball and scoring. Defensive plays include “hooking” an opponent’s mallet as he tries to strike the ball, “riding off” (placing your horse next to his and encouraging your horse to push his off course) or “bumping” (riding off with a bang—but it is illegal to bump or ride off at an angle greater than 45 degrees.)

 

The play begins with a lineup at the center of the field. One of the two mounted umpires bowls the ball between the two teams. Each team fights to gain possession. Most of the rules in polo come from the concept of the “line-of-the-ball.” The line of the ball is an imaginary line that the ball creates when a player hits it. A simplified explanation of the rules would say that a player must not cross this line if there is another player behind him who is “on the line” and therefore has the “right of way.” This sometimes means that a player must take the ball on the left side (near side) of his horse, and sometimes means he must not try to hit it at all.

If a player does “cross the line” or commits another foul such as “high hooking” (hooking another player’s mallet when it is about the level of his shoulder), the umpire blows a whistle. The fouled team then gets to take a penalty shot. The more serious the foul, the closer this shot will be to the fouling player’s goal. A minor foul might merit a hit “from the spot.” If the foul is more serious, or is repeated or deemed to be intentional or dangerous, the umpire might move the ball up to mid-field, to the 60-yard, the 40-yard or the 30-yard line.

 

After each goal, the teams switch directions. If the red teams scores on the east end of the field, then in the next play, red will be trying to score on the west end of the field. Switching directions after each goal equalizes field conditions. However, it can be confusing to players and spectators alike!

 

A polo match is divided into six periods called chukkers. Each chukker consists of seven to seven one-half minutes of playing time. The timekeeper stops the clock whenever a player commits a foul and when someone hits the ball over the endline, but not when a player knocks the ball out of bounds on the sides of the field or scores a goal. At seven minutes, the timekeeper sounds a warning bell. Play continues until a goal is scored, the ball hits the sideboards, goes out of bounds or 30 seconds is up. When time is up, the timekeeper sounds the horn. Then the players have four minutes to leave the field, change horses and come back for the next chukker. After the third chukker, there is a longer half-time break, during which spectators are encouraged to walk out on the field to “stomp the divots.”

 

Most players prefer to have a fresh horse for each chukker. As a rule, a horse can play only one or two chukkers per game. This means that a play must have a minimum of three horses to compete in a match. At higher levels, some players use as many as eight horses in a game, jumping off one and onto another mid-chukker.

 

The play begins with a lineup at the center of the field. One of the two mounted umpires bowls the ball between the two teams. Each team fights to gain possession. Most of the rules in polo come from the concept of the “line-of-the-ball.” The line of the ball is an imaginary line that the ball creates when a player hits it. A simplified explanation of the rules would say that a player must not cross this line if there is another player behind him who is “on the line” and therefore has the “right of way.” This sometimes means that a player must take the ball on the left side (near side) of his horse, and sometimes means he must not try to hit it at all.

Polo Team and Polo Strategy: A Polo Primer The Rules of the Game By Pam Gleason, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER OF “THE AIKEN HORSE”