Rules of Arena Polo
The rules of polo can seem complicated when you first start out, but the more you watch and play, the faster you'll pick them up. Many rules must be followed to keep the game safe for both riders and horses. Every year, the extensive rules are updated and sent to players and umpires to keep them up to date.
In an arena polo match, two teams comprised of three players each compete in a 300' x 150' arena, with the objective of driving the ball between the opponent’s goalposts. The game is divided into four or six 7.5-minute play periods called “chukkers,” where each team member plays both offense and defense. Each player strikes the ball with a mallet, or stick, and must hold it in their right hand at all times.
The main rule you should learn is the “line of the ball” which is the imaginary path the ball travels on. This “law” represents a right-of-way for the last player striking the ball and is the basis for most fouls in a game. Players must maintain a certain amount of distance to cross the line and gain access to the ball. When the ball is hit, if this invisible line is crossed in a dangerous way, a foul will be called.
History of Polo
The game of polo dates back thousands of years to Central Asia, when mounted nomads played a version of polo that was part sport and part training for war -- as many as 100 men would play on a side. The game followed the nomads’ migration to Persia (modern Iran) some time between 600 B.C. and 100 A.D. In Persia, polo became a national sport, played by the nobility and military men. Ultimately the game was formalized and spread west to Constantinople, east to Tibet, China and Japan, and south to India.
Modern polo originated in Manipur, a northeastern state of India. The Silchar Polo Club was founded in 1859 by British military officers and tea planters, after Lieutenant Joe Sherer saw the locals playing polo and said, “We must learn the game!” From India, polo spread as fast as its enthusiasts could travel, appearing in Malta in 1868, England in 1869, Ireland in 1870, Argentina in 1872 and Australia in 1874.
On a trip to England, James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, saw his first polo game. Early in 1876, he returned to New York with mallets, balls, and a copy of the Hurlingham rules. The first game was played at a city riding academy; in the spring they moved outdoors to a field in Westchester County. That summer, the New York players took polo to Newport, R.I. Soon the galloping game was being played across North America.
The United States Polo Association (USPA) was founded in 1890 as a governing body to coordinate games, standardize rules, and establish handicaps so the teams could be more evenly matched.
Interest in the game of polo exploded throughout the twentieth century. During the World Wars era, USPA membership even included over 1,200 military players from the U.S. Army, who were encouraged to participate in polo to improve their riding ability. Interest peaked all the way out to Hollywood in its heyday, and dignitaries like President Theodore Roosevelt took up the game.
Arena polo's roots lie with the U.S. military as well, with cavalry riders playing polo to keep their horsemanship skills sharp during the harsh winter months. Interestingly enough, the reason why players wear white pants while playing is for tradition and a tribute to honor the cavalry that brought polo to the western world.
Today, USPA membership includes nearly 300 clubs in 13 different circuits across the United States and Canada and oversees 40 national tournaments.