polo, indoor or outdoor ball and goal game played on horseback.
Rules and Equipment
Two teams of four compete on a level, rectangular grass field that measures 200 by 300 yd (182.88 by 274.32 m). Safety zones surround the playing field, and at either end goal posts stand 10 ft (3.05 m) high and 24 ft (7.32 m) apart. An indoor version is tailored to the dimensions of the various arenas in which it is played. The outdoor ball, weighing about 41/2 oz (.13 kg) and measuring not more than 31/4 in. (8.26 cm) in diameter, is made of wood, often willow root. Standard polo equipment includes a specially made brimmed helmet, a flexible-stemmed mallet some 4 ft (1.22 m) long, and the usual equestrian equipment.
An outdoor match is made up of eight periods (called chukkers), usually of 71/2 min each, though in some matches either the length or number of chukkers may be reduced. Play is directed toward hitting the ball through the opponents' goal. A mounted umpire metes out penalties—e.g., automatic goals, free shots on goal, and disqualification—for dangerous riding, carrying the ball, or illegal use of the mallet. The umpire starts each period and begins play after each goal by throwing the ball into a marked-off midfield area between the two lines of opposing players. A system of handicapping players promotes parity.
Polo ponies, actually standard-size horses of no particular breed, undergo a long, rigorous period of training to prepare them for the bruising requirements of the game. Because a typical polo match involves virtually nonstop action and many high-speed collisions of the horses, each player must maintain a "string" of expensive ponies so as to be able to change mounts several times during the course of a match. Thus, polo is a sport for the wealthy.
Some historians claim that polo originated in Persia in the 6th cent.; it spread to Turkey, India, and Tibet and, with some modifications, to China and Japan. According to this view, it was revived in India during the 19th cent., where it became popular with British army officers stationed there, and spread to other countries. Others contend that the British officers themselves created the game (1862) after seeing a horsemanship exhibition in Manipur, India. The sport was introduced into England in 1869, and seven years later sportsman James Gordon Bennett imported it to the United States. After 1886, English and American teams occasionally met for the International Polo Challenge Cup. Polo was on several Olympic games schedules, but was last an Olympic sport in 1936. Polo is also now popular in Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand, but the relative number of polo players remains small.
See S. D. Price, The Polo Primer (1989).