How to watch Polo

The Object: Move the ball downfield and through the goal in 4-6 periods of play, known as “chukkers.” Each chukker is 7 ½ minutes long. Most polo rules are for safety of the player and their horses. Primary concerns are the “right of way” and “line of the ball,” which is an imaginary line formed each time the ball is struck. The player who last struck the ball has the right of way and no other player may cross the line of the ball in front of that player. Crossing the line is the most common foul in polo. A penalty shot is a free hit from a predetermined distance into a guarded or unguarded goal. A dramatic pause in action often provides some of the most suspenseful moments in the game.

The Players: Four on a side, positions designated by jersey number. Number 1 is the most offensive forward player and usually has an accurate hit. Number 2 plays offense and defense, interchanging with Player 3. Number 3 is the quarterback and play maker. This player is often the highest rated and most experienced player. Number 4 is the last line of defense and can hit a long ball accurately. Each player has a given handicap awarded by the Unites States Polo Association (USPA) between -1 and 10 goals (ten is best). Players’ handicaps are added together to form a team that is equal to its competition. The difference in goals between two teams is awarded to the lower rated team before play begins.

The Ponies: Memo Gracida, perhaps one of the best polo players in the world, checks on his ponies before he goes to sleep. They are the heart and soul of the game. Gracida once said, “There are two athletes that play this game: the player and the horse.” In no other sport does a player depend so much on an animal partner for his success. Thoroughbred lines come from Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Like any good athlete, the pony has to be built for the game. A horse must accelerate to full speed, change direction or slow down to zero in a short distance. Just like the players, the ponies thrive on the action and excitement of the game.

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