POLO 101

An outdoor polo game is between two teams comprised of four players on each team.

Outdoor polo is played on a grass field measuring 300 yards long by 150 yards wide. Nine American football fields would fit in one polo field!

  • A regulation game has six periods of play known as ‘chukkers’. One chukker is 7m 30s, with breaks between each chukker for players to change ponies.
  • A “throw-in” by an umpire is what puts the ball in play at the beginning of the chukker, or after a goal is scored. There are rules about how play is conducted and to keep the horses and players safe, with umpires to regulate the game. The clock stopped every time there is any interruption or foul, as deemed by the umpire.
  • A goal is scored every time the ball goes through the goal, regardless of how high the ball is hit. A “flagger” standing behind the goal either waves a flag up in the air when a goal is scored, or near the ground if the ball went over the back line outside of the goal mouth. Every time a goal is scored, the teams switch direction so that no team has an unfair advantage (i.e. wind, sun, etc).
  • The ‘line-of-the-ball’ and the ‘right-of-way’ make up the fundamentals of the game. The line of the ball is the imaginary path the travelling ball is expected to take. This line may not be crossed by the opponent. A player who is going straight after a ball they have hit may not be intercepted by another player, as this could harm the player or pony.
  • A ‘hook’ is when a player uses the mallet to block or interfere an opponent’s swing by hooking the other player’s mallet. This is only allowed when a player is on the side where the swing is occurring, or directly in front of or behind their opponent. The hook must be safely performed, away from the horses’ legs.
  • A bump or ‘ride-off’, is used to break an opponent’s concentration, move him off the line of the ball, or interfere with an upcoming shot. When one player rides the pony alongside and physically connects with the opponent to lead the other player away from the ball, it is called a ride-off. A ride-off is permissible only at a 30° angle and at the horse’s shoulder.
  • The mallet (also known as the stick) is usually made of bamboo. Mallets range in length, depending on the height of the horse and rider. The ball is made of plastic. A player must hold the mallet in their right hand for safety reasons.
  • Each player is individually ranked on a handicap scale ranging from -2 to +10. Handicaps are assigned to players by club delegates and the United States Polo Association (USPA). The majority of players are ranked in a handicap range of -1 to 2, with only a handful of players worldwide have a 10-goal handicap. The team handicap is the aggregate of the players’ handicaps. In a 4 to 6-goal tournament for example, the handicaps of the four team players totals between 4 to 6. This keeps the teams competitive and even. The difference in goals between the teams is awarded to the lower rated team before play begins.

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