Polo horse riding is a team working sport where every player sits on a horse. Each team has four players that compete on a rectangular grass field about 182.88 by 247.32 meters (Johnson, 2016). The playing field has several safety zones, and both goal posts at either end stand at 3.05 meters high and 7.32 meters wide. An indoor version of the game is engineered to the dimensions of the different fields in which the game is played (Federation of International Polo, 2010). The white ball used in the game weighs about 13 kilograms and measures around 8 centimeters in diameter is made of wood. A standard polo player has to have a brimmed helmet and a flexible-stemmed mallet approximately 1.5 meters in length.
The outdoor match contains eight periods (chukkers), about 71/2 minutes each, but the time can be reduced depending on the number of chukkers. The play involves hitting the ball towards an opponent’s goal post. A mounted umpire is designed to mete out disqualifications, free shots on goal and penalties. Rejections are given automatically as a result of dangerous riding, illegal use of the helmet and carrying the ball (El, 2017). The ponies used in playing the game undergo a thorough training period meant to prepare them for bruising requirements in the game. Due to the typical non-stop action involved in the game including high-speed collisions, every player is required to maintain a string of expensive horses so that they can change many times during the match. Thus the sport is meant for the wealthy (Federation of International Polo, 2010). This essay discusses the rules, equipment used, benefits aims and age-related effects of the game.
Most historians claim that the game originated in the 6th century in Persia; it spread to India, Tibet, and Japan and later to Turkey and China after few modifications. According to Johnson (2016), the game was reviewed in India where it became popular among the British army officers and later spread to other parts of Europe. Others argue that the British soldiers invented the game in 1862 after they witnessed the Manipur exhibitions in India. The game was introduced later in England in 1869, and seven years later, an American citizen and sportsman, James Bennett introduced it in the United States. After 1890, teams from both the English and the Americans used to meat in the international polo challenge (Dubai Polo & Equestarian Club, 2016). It was then introduced in several Olympic world games but lastly appeared in the Olympics in 1936. The game is now popular in Australia, Poland, and Argentina, nut the number of polo players remains relatively small.
Teams, equipment, and players:
Players are limited to 4 in every game, and all must be qualified based on the rules and regulations of the host country. Each player holds the stick in the right hand and has to be free of drugs or any other substance deemed by the world Antidoping agency as influential on someone’s judgment and body. All players have to consent to tests on their urine and blood by the host organisation. The average handicap of any time must fall within limits set for the specific event. Any team whose handicap is higher or lower should not be permitted to participate in the event (Federation of International Polo, 2010). Nonetheless, if a player is unable to continue due to an injury or illness, the team may be allowed to continue below the lower handicap limit. Certain rules regarding handicapping vary from country to country and must be obeyed.
Substitution is only limited to players who are appropriately qualified under the rules of the tournament; any combination of four people that have been nominated and are qualified are eligible to take part in the game, provided the team meets the handicap requirements of the tournament and the specific players named 24 hours before the game. During an ongoing game, substitution takes place between chukkers, unless a player becomes sick or is injured. When a player becomes ill during the game, they may be substituted with permission from the umpire. However, with every substitution, the team must remain within the handicap limits and should be qualified. If after or during any replacement the teams begin playing above the handicap limit, the team is brought back to 14 goals (Federation of International Polo, 2010). Specific rules on substitution and handicap changes may vary from country to country and must be followed.
Players are required to wear protective gear with a properly fixed chain strap. Sharp spurs on boots and protruding buckles are not allowed since they could easily cause injury during the game (British Horse Society. 2010). Also, both teams have to wear distinguishing colours, however, if both teams wear similar colours, the team with the lower handicap must change its colour.
Pony equipment and welfare:
There are no specific measurements of height or weight for a pony to qualify for the game, but defects such as blindness and signs of aggressiveness towards other players disqualify any pony from the game. Additionally, ponies must wear protective gear such as boots and Calkins on the last inch of the hind shoes (Federation of International Polo, 2010). Players are responsible for the welfare of their ponies, and if a pony shows signs of sickness like blood during the game, it is immediately removed from the match. When a pony falls, it should be trotted up the sound and fit to participate in the game before taking part in any other match, the umpire has the authority to disqualify any pony from the game.
Duties and authorities of a tournament committee
In most polo horse riding events, the host organisation appoints three qualified individuals with objective goals based on the game to form a tournament committee. The committee is charged with the mandate of running the event, which includes: providing all equipment needed by the officials for the event and scheduling matches between different teams (Johnson, 2016). The decisions made by the committee are final but have to be subject to the international organisation that formed it. No team is allowed to appeal against the appointment of any referee or umpire, nor appeal against the venue of the event.
Umpires and referees
Two umpires are involved in administering the rules in that game, a referee is also included but should be off the field and in a central position. However, the tournament committee may decide that only one umpire and referee are required in a particular match. All decisions by the umpire are final unless when both are not able to agree on one decision, this is when the referee is included in the decision making (Federation of International Polo, 2010). Should any issue or question not included in the rules of the host country in which the game is taking place, the umpire is expected to decide in such a situation. The umpire’s authority begins when they take charge of the field and ends when they leave. During this period, any foul play of breaking of the rules is penalised by the umpire. Also, it is within their power to stop or delay a game if a player has broken any rule and they decide to penalise them.
Game equipment and facilities
A full-size polo field should be approximately 275 meters and about 230 meters between goals. 140 meters to 180 meters in width between the goal posts. Each goal should be 7.3 meters wide and exactly centered at each field end. The goals posts should be exactly 10 feet high and light enough to move if collided with (Johnson, 2016). The boards are about 28 centimeters in height. The field should be marked clearly at the center of a T and in all boundaries without side boards and at every edge and centre with 30, 40 and 60-yard lines. The ball size should be 3 inches in diameter and should weigh approximately 125 grams.
The runoff area should be 10 and 30 yards beyond the boards and behind the backline respectively (El, 2017). Only the players, referee and the umpires are allowed in the runoff area during a match; except a stick, the holder may be allowed to cross through the safety zone while handing a player a new stick. Any player requiring a new stick during a game should try ide to the side-lines to procure it since no outsider is allowed in the area.
Game durations, winning, handicaps, goals, and chukkers.
The standard duration of a polo horse riding match is six chukkers. However, the number of chukkers may vary in a tournament depending on the committee’s decision. All games have a half-time interval of about five minutes which is allowed before the first chukker of extra time. In matches where there are 7 or 5 chukkers, the interval is laced after the 4th or 3rd chukker respectively (Federation of International Polo, 2010).
During a normal chukker, that is the first; a bell is ringed to warn that 7 minutes have expired in play. If the ball is out when sounding the bell, then the umpire is required to blow a whistle to end the chukker. Nevertheless, if the ball is in play while sounding the bell, the game continues until the umpire sounds his whistle to end the chukker or game. Any penalty during the first bell is awarded at the beginning of the next chukker (El, 2017).
The last chukker ends when the first bell is sounded unless the conditions of the tournament require a result and the teams have drawn. In this event, the game should continue until either one team scores a goal or when the second bell is sounded. In the latter situation, extra time is awarded.
Again, in case a penalty is awarded five seconds to the last chukker, the timekeeper must add another five seconds from the time of the penalty. For instance, if during a game there were 2 seconds left, the timekeeper should allow finds seconds from the time the penalty is taken. Thus the game will have 2 seconds awarded to it (El, 2017). In case the teams have drawn, and the game has ended, an extra chukker with similar conditions and time is allowed until one side obtains more goals than the other which will be used to determine the winner.
The team that has scored more goals, including handicap goals and penalty goals, wins the match. All games are played until a winner is determined unless rules state otherwise. For a goal to be termed as a score, the ball has to pass between the goal posts and cross the clear goal line (Federation of International Polo, 2010). The ball must go over and through the goal line and pass between the inner vertical lines. If both umpires are unable to conclude whether a goal was scored or not, having consulted the goal judge, they must give the benefit of the doubt to the defending team. No objection is allowed at the end of a game after a decision has already been made during the match.
All games must be played under handicap conditions; the lower handicapped team is conceded by, the higher team to bring the difference in handicaps (El, 2017). All goal fractions are calculated as half goals, and handicap mistakes or goal mistakes must be solved before the beginning of another chukker.
Benefits and aims of the game
While polo horse riding can be equated to a mix of riding on horseback, soccer, and croquet, the sport has many physical and mental health benefits as discussed below:
The act of riding a horse keeps the brain exercised, offering an excellent therapeutic quality as well. Simply being on the horse and racing outdoors boost one’s general wellbeing and also greatly relieves stress (British Horse Society, 2010). This health benefit is also experienced by players in the flat racing and horseball games who also ride on horsebacks.
The act of developing a relationship between the player and the horse is highly rewarding based on an emotional perspective. When a player learns to control and take care of the horse has a profound effect on their confidence and makes them feel great (Health Fitness Revolution, 2017). Most horse riders feels that the horse is connected to their spirit thus can control and feel their emotions; and also a human companion.
General physical benefits
Playing polo while riding on the horses helps one develop balance and improves the body’s ability to coordinate movements and functions of the motor sensors. The hand-eye coordination involved in playing the game like hitting the ball while moving the horse in certain directions involves a lot of coordination between the brain and body parts (British Horse Society, 2010). Thus, playing horse riding games such as polo, point-to-point and flat racing provide great exercise on the cardiac and skeletal muscles.
Researchers such as British Horse Society (2010), determined that riding has to be done for an hour for it to be considered moderate-intensity. This level of exercise goes hand in hand with the England’s recommendations for minimal level activity. Additionally, horse riding includes many activities such as balance and saddling. Thus the body is fully engaged leading to the burning of hundreds of calories.
Upper strength of the body
The act of riding a horse while swinging the mallet contributes greatly to upper body, neck and arm strength. The upper body should be strong because it controls one’s ability to perform everyday activities. Having a strong upper body greatly contributes to your mobility, motion range, and flexibility. Lack of a strong upper body leads to prolonged injuries, diseases and low life quality during old age (Health Fitness Revolution, 2017).
Postural muscle strength
As the horse runs through the field, the rider reacts to these movements to avoid falling off the horse, thus the deep postural muscles found in the pelvis and trunk and thigh muscles are continuously under conditioning (British Horse Society, 2010). Playing polo strengthens these the center muscles of the body providing more power to other muscles, thus reducing risk injuries incurred during day-to-day activities. Additionally, strong postural muscles improve breathing and support the lungs.
When the rider is on the horse, trying to balance and navigate through the field, calories are burnt in the body. The act of increasing speed and riding duration like in ranch sporting also increases the intensity of the work thus burning more calories (Health Fitness Revolution, 2017).
Training involves both the rider and the horse, thus remaining optimal in the game requires practice and personal exercise and training of the horse. All these increase body strengths.
Feeding, stabling, grooming and providing pasture for the horse is not an easy task, but just a part of the whole package of a horse rider. As one grooms their horse, cleans the stables and carries around the saddles, the bone mass is well maintained. Eventually, the players find themselves having burnt calories without realising.
A full-speed horse stimulates the rush of adrenaline in the rider’s body; this provides signals to the liver to break down glycogen and supply fuel to the body. This process occurs during exercise when the muscles are running out of fuel and when a sudden need for energy is required in emergency situations (British Horse Society, 2010).
Positive character traits
The art of riding a horse teaches responsibility to the riders and to those who take care of the horses. The horse caretakers are involved in the life of the horse during illness and health, thus dedicates a lot of their energy and time taking care of the animal (British Horse Society, 2010). In turn, the caretakers can learn about animal health and virtues such as patience, empathy, discipline, and dedication. Without which the rider cannot go far as far as horsemanship is concerned.
Polo horse riding is recognised as a rough contact game. According to a study done by Evers (2017), about 67% of all polo players reported bruising and severe injuries after playing. However, injuries requiring admission to the hospital were not common. Shoulder risk injuries mainly affected players between the ages of 21-30 (Innes & Morgan, 2015). Use of wrist support, however, reduced the number of shoulder injuries due to a reduction of the effect of forces on the hand that is brought about by swinging the mallet (Health Fitness Revolution, 2017). Players above 20 years were less likely to fall than players below 17 years; this is because older riders are better, have better balance and are more cautious while playing. Older players were more focused on safety rather than style, as compared to younger riders who focused more on style than safety, thus younger riders are at a high risk of falling and being injured during matches.
Polo horse riding is a rough sport that brings a lot of benefits to the human body in the event of training and playing. During training, the rider undergoes an intense period together with their horse thus building a strong bond between them. The bond gives a player confidence, and some feel as being connected spiritually to their horse. During the match, many rules guide the player, and are enforced in the field by the umpire and a referee. Before a match, or games, a tournament committee is formed by an international organisation to oversee the success of the matches between different teams. All decisions made by the board are final and cannot be disputed by any team.
British Horse Society, (2010) Health benefits. Retrieved from
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El, R. (2017). Polo Rules. Retrieved from http://www.pcuk.org/uploads/polo/Polo_Rules_for_web.pdf
Evers, S. (2017). Top 10 Health Benefits of Polo Horse Riding. Retrieved fromhttp://cha-ahse.org/store/blog/The_Top_15_Benefits_of_Horseback_Riding.html
Federation of International Polo, (2010). The International Rules for Polo. Retrieved from http://www.fippolo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/THE-INTERNATIONAL-RULES-FOR-POLO-August-2010.pdf
Health Fitness Revolution. (2017). Health Benefits of Horseback Riding. Retrieved from http://www.healthfitnessrevolution.com/health-benefits-horseback-riding/
Innes, M., & Morgan, K. (2015). Falls and Injuries to Polo; risk of injuries. Retrieved from https://sportsmedicine-open.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40798-014-0002-8
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