Polo game – King of all sports

The Polo game probably is the “king” of all sports. It has an eventful history dating back to well before Christ. But how does it work exactly and what do I have to pay attention to? In our blog we explain the basics to you.

polo game
British gentlemen playing polo


Origins of the Polo game

The beginnings of the polo game lie in Iran, Afghanistan, Kashmir and northern Pakistan around 600 BC. The term already has exotic roots, as the word polo comes from the language of the Balti, a small people from Kashmir, and simply means “ball”.

Polo is also a sport with a long tradition: more than 2600 years ago, people in equestrian sports-loving Persia held polo competitions in large public squares.

Together with Islam, polo spread to Arabia and India. In the 19th century, the British colonial masters of the time also learned to appreciate the game and finally introduced polo to Great Britain. The first British Polo Club was founded in 1859.

Polo was an Olympic discipline five times (1900, 1908, 1920, 1924 and 1936), but could not establish itself permanently at the largest sports competition in the world.

But even today the game is on the upswing again and is increasingly played. Therefore, we want to take a short look at the rules and give a short introduction.

polo game
A polo game team in the early 19th century


Rules of the Polo game

A polo game is divided into 4 to 6 units, the so-called chukkers. Each chukker lasts seven and a half minutes, after seven minutes a gong sounds and after another 30 seconds the last gong concludes the end of the chukker. If a goal is scored after the first gong, the chukker is finished immediately. Between the chukkers the players have 4 minutes to change their horses, which is necessary because the horses are exhausted.


Polo Player

At the polo game each team consists of 4 players with the numbers 1,2,3,4. Each polo player has a position where there is no goalkeeper. The polo progress curve is usually less steep, so that you only reach your zenith after years.


Polo Handicaps

Every polo player usually has a handicap, i.e. he is on a scale from minus 2 (beginner) to 10 (absolute top player). The ranking takes into account a variety of factors. These include Team play, rules, horses, strategy, hits, etc. About two thirds of all polo players have a handicap of 2 or less and only about a dozen are listed with a handicap of 10.

Players with a handicap of 5 usually play polo professionally. In a normal game the handicaps of the individual polo players are added to a team handicap. If one team has a higher handicap than the other, the team with the lower handicap gets one goal advantage per point difference.

So if a team with handicap 16 plays against another team with handicap 14, the team with handicap 14 gets a goal advantage of two goals. However, there are also open tournaments where the handicaps are not taken into account and no team gets a lead.


The Polo field

It is about 274m (300 yards) long and 182m (200 yards) wide. The goalposts are 8 yards apart, regardless of the height at which the ball passes through them – goal is goal. To ensure fair play there are a total of 3 referees. 2 of them are on horses, the so-called umpires and an additional rule guard is positioned on the side at the height of the middle of the field. He intervenes if an umpire has made a wrong decision.


The Polo Horses

In polo, the horses in English are called ponies. Usually the horses are acquired from the racetrack and retrained for polo. A normal racehorse is not suitable at all to play polo. On the one hand the horses have to be extremely fast and on the other hand they have to be very agile.


Line of the ball

The line of the ball and the right of way form the basis of the game. The line of the ball is the imaginary path the running ball should take. This line may not be crossed by the opponent.

A player who immediately after hitting a ball or the first player to swing into the line of a rolling or flying ball without obstructing the others may not be intercepted by any other player as this could harm the player or the pony.


The mallet and the ball

The mallet (also called stick) usually consists of bamboo or willow and may only be held in the right hand. Depending on the size of the pony and the rider, the mallets are between 122 cm and 137 cm long. The ball is hit with the head of the club. The ball, which traditionally consists of pressed bamboo and today mostly plastic, has a diameter of about ten centimetres and weighs about 130 grams. A ball that is barely hit can reach a speed of 130 km/h. The ball is also very strong.



Hooking is a frequent defensive game. This means that a player can block the opponent’s swing by using his hammer to hook the mallet of the opponent swinging on the ball. A player may only hook if he is on the side on which the shot is taken or directly behind an opponent. The most important rule in polo is always the safety of the horse!


Side change after each goal

One of the most important rules: The teams change sides after each goal. This rule comes from the hot and sunny colonies in India, where polo was played in the evening due to the high temperatures during the day. Since the sun is low in the evening, it was a considerable disadvantage to play against the sun.



As a layman, it is very difficult to detect fouls in polo. Even professional polo players sometimes have difficulty recognizing a foul. Although there is a 53 page rulebook for polo in the USA for example, I would just like to show you the essential guidelines.

For example, a foul is already present in a dangerous game. The game is considered “dangerous” if a polo player crosses the path of the player with the ball.

Imagine a line in the direction in which the ball rolls or flies. The polo players must remain more or less on this line or parallel to it. If the ball changes direction, this line also changes. Elbow checks and kicks are also forbidden.

After a foul has been punished, the foul team receives a free kick. If the ball is carried over the baseline by a defender, there is a free kick from the 60 yard line at the height where the ball spins out.


Polo tradition

The most famous tradition in polo is the so-called Pivot Stomp. The spectators go onto the main peloton and kick the turf back into the ground, which has been torn out of the ground by the hooves of the horses. This also results in the possibility of a chat with the other spectators.

There are many clichés about polo. Some are true, some not. But the best thing is to try it out for yourself.


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