Equestrian Polo

Definition of equestrian polo

Equestrian polo today is a game played on a grassy field on horseback between two teams of four players. Each player has a flexible mallet which is used to hit a ball that is on the ground so that it passes through two goal posts to score a point. The ball originally was made of wood, but today it’s made of rubber or plastic. It is the oldest equestrian game (often known as a sport) and dates back to the sixth century B.C.

How did equestrian polo get its name?

Many centuries ago equestrian polo made its way from Persia (Iran) to China. In the Tibetan language the word ‘pholo” means ball or ball game. Soon after the game was introduced into India where the British embraced it and gave it the name we know today as “POLO.” Often today you will hear polo referred to as “hockey on horseback.”

What are some interesting features of equestrian polo?

There are so many interesting features of equestrian polo. We would like to introduce you to most of them below:

  • It is the oldest and first equestrian sport.
  • It originated in Persia and was played from the sixth century B.C. to today.
  • There is still a Persian playing field from ancient times (equal to nine football fields) which is the same dimensions as today’s playing fields. 
  • It was used for training of the king’s elite guards originally with fifty players to a team.
  • It evolved into becoming a game for the nobility with both men and women teams.
  • It is considered to be one of the most difficult, strenuous and spontaneous sports.
  • It spread over time from Persia to Japan, China, India, England and on to the Americas.
  • For centuries a certain number of players to a team and making a goal were the only rules for this game.
  • In India during the 1860”s The Calcutta Polo Club was founded.
  • By 1866 the British played with eight members to a team and rules for the game were written.
  • In the late 1800’s American Polo Clubs were established and national and international tournaments appeared.
  • Equestrian polo teams are all over the world today.
  • The riders may change their horse from two to eight times during the game. Equestrian polo teams were created in universities both for men and women, and are still popular.
  • The horses are often referred to as ponies, but they are adult horses. The training of these horses begins when they are two years old. It is intense and requires years of work for the rider and the horse to interact well with each other in order to play the game properly.

The history of polo and the USA Army

In the late eighteen hundreds, the American Army realized that introducing polo as a feature for training cavalrymen could greatly improve soldiers’ battle combat. The skill, proficiency and concentration required in battle was greatly improved through the introduction of polo training. In  1901 West Point began polo training for soldiers and by 1914 there were seventeen army posts throughout the country that followed suit.

 As time passed war became mechanized and it was less important for soldiers to have horse riding skills. However great admiration for the game continued and army leagues participate in intramural tournaments today. 

history of polo and the USA Army

Information about the horses used for Polo 

If you are wondering about the horses used for Polo you should know that today there are several breeds which are exclusively bred for Polo. They are the following: The Thoroughbred, The Argentine Polo Pony, The Thoroughbred Quarter, and the Manipuri Breed.

 Polo experts decide on which horses from these breeds will be trained for playing Polo; obviously only the very best are chosen. The traits of speed, motivation, sure footedness, agility, sociability, strict training, balance, fitness and trustworthiness are all considered.   We will now take a closer look at the four Polo horse breeds:

  • The Thoroughbred Breed is strong, fast and agile. In the USA 75% of polo horses are from this breed. They are known for their stamina and strong hind legs
  • The Argentina Polo Pony is the result of breeding The Thoroughbred with The Argentine Criollo and it has the highest endurance level; it is also known as The Argentine Anglo.
  • Tha Thoroughbred Quarter breed is also a mixed breed and is considered to have endurance and speed as well as fast reflexes.
  • The Manipuri breed, which is short in height, was originally created for cavaliers.

The majority of Polo horses are female. There are strict rules that govern the care and well being of these horses. They are groomed, well fed and have regular medical check ups.

What you must know if you want to play polo

Aside from the usual rules of the game you must know the following if you want to play polo:

  • This game requires very aggressive player skills: power, balance, coordination, quick reflexes, superior riding skills and a strategy are necessities
  • A play period is seven minutes and thirty seconds; it is called a “chukker.” After each chukker the player must change their horse. 
  • Every match is made up of four, six or eight chukkers. There is a five minute rest period between chukkers; and at half time there is a fifteen minute break.
  • You must take polo lessons with a professional and learn all of the rules of the game.
  • Playing polo can be both dangerous and highly rewarding at the same time.
  • One advantage of this game is that if you lose you will understand why
Equestrian Polo

What Equipment is Needed for playing Polo?

Whereas this game is somewhat dangerous there is the equipment required for both the rider and the horse that serves as protection. The rider must have a helmet, high riding boots, elbow and knee pads, gloves, glasses or goggles, a face guard, a mallet and a saddle.

The horse must have shin boots to protect the lower leg and horseshoes on their hooves. A bit is necessary in the horse’s mouth to control commands from the rider to the horse. The tail must be braided and the mane must be mostly cut away.


Polo is an international sport and is played worldwide. Polo clubs exist in just about every country. These clubs participate in national and international tournaments all year long. Most games are played on an open field outside. However, there are indoor arenas too. The games in the arenas are more controlled than those outside; the rules of the game apply to both indoor and outdoor games.

Polo is an exciting game that moves very quickly. It attracts both players of all ages and devoted fans. You must be in fine physical and mental shape to be a player.  Today it is no longer required that you be rich or upper class to play polo.

If you want to be a polo player and you live in an urban or semi urban area you should contact a local polo club and ask what you need to do to get started.

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