A game played on horseback on a large field between two teams of 4 players each with the object to drive a small wooden ball down the field with a long-handed mallet and into the opponents’ goal for a score and to prevent the opponents from scoring.
The ball is played with the side of the mallet head, and all strokes must be made from horseback. Polo is believed to have originated in Persia, and it is known to have been played as early as 500 B.C. A match consists of six 7 1/2-minute periods of play called ‘chukkers’.
Because of the strain on the horses, traditionally called ponies, the same horse is not used in successive chukkers. A polo player normally has 3 ponies which he alternates. Two of the 4 players on the team play forward of their teammates are referred to as forwards. The other two players, who have primarily defensive duties, are the backs.
Polo is played using a handicap system in which each player is rated at a certain number of points according to his skill and relative value to his team. The sum of the handicaps of the individual team members equals the team’s handicap. The team with the lower total is given the difference in points at the beginning of the game.
The game is controlled by 2 mounted umpires positioned at each of the field who watch for riding infractions. Because of the two obvious danger to both horse and rider from collisions and rough play, the rules of polo have to do principally with safe riding. It is generally illegal for one rider to cut across in front of an opponent to play the ball though a rider may move in front from a slight angle if he continues in the same direction as the opponent.
Contact between horses is permitted so long as the pace is slow or the angle at which one rider approaches another from the rear is slight. A player may ride an opponent off the ball by veering his horse into the opponent’s, but his horse may not have its shoulders in front of the opposing horse.
It is permissible to hook an opponent’s mallet with one’s own, but it must be done only on the same side of the horse while the other player is attempting to play the ball.
Violations of these rules and any playing of the mallet into a horse’s legs are fouls which are penalized by the awarding of a goal (if the foul was intended to prevent a goal) or a free hit to the other team at the spot of the foul or at a spot 30, 40, or 60 yards in front of the goal, depending on the seriousness of the foul.