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POLO IN HISTORY

More than 2,000 years ago, horsemen on the plains of Persia invented a game. Mounted on their Oriental warhorses, they practiced hitting a small ball with a long wooden stick. They built polo grounds—large flat fields, about the same size as we use today—and erected goal posts on each end. These posts were solid stone pillars, some of which are still standing in modern-day Iran.

 

The game drew hundreds of enthusiastic players and spread throughout the Middle and Far East. Chinese emperors and empresses played. Japanese warriors played. Even Alexander the Great played. Polo remained a popular sport for centuries. Eventually, it found its way to India, which is here that it got its modern name. Polo, or “pulu,” is the Manipuri Indian name for the willow root, from which the players made their ball.

From England, polo spread throughout the lands of the British Empire. In the spring of 1876, it came to America in the “luggage” of James Gordon Bennett, an eccentric millionaire who was the publisher of the New York Herald. At least, he brought the balls and the mallets in his luggage. The horses came to Westchester County, New York from Texas. The first recorded game in America has an interesting story. Mr. Bennett invited a select group of local gentlemen to a dinner at his estate, at which he expounded upon the thrill of the “new” sport. At the meal’s end, he brought the gentlemen out onto his lawn, where grooms held a dozen Texas cowponies. The gentlemen mounted up, swung their mallets at the ball, and were instantly addicted. The new players bought the horses at 20 dollars apiece and began to play regularly in an outdoor riding ring in New York City.

Polo caught on quickly in America, spreading anywhere that there were horses and people with leisure time. The first polo club in America, the Westchester Club, was founded in Newport, Rhode Island in the summer of 1876. It immediately moved north, south, east and west. The United States Polo Association (USPA) was born in 1890 as the “Polo Association.” That year, the organization comprised five clubs. Today, there are almost 250 polo clubs in 43 states. In addition, 34 colleges and universities across the country have collegiate polo programs that have introduced many new players to the game. There are even interscholastic teams and pony club teams that compete at their respective levels.

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