Find out how polo ponies developed
Polo ponies are developed from lines of professional polo mounts, by experienced breeders. They are schooled to be exceptionally agile for the energetic game of polo.
why are they called ponies?
Newcomers to the game often wonder about the use of ‘ponies’. In fact, this term merely stems from tradition. Polo ponies are actually horses, but the smaller the horse, the more advantageous.
There was originally a limit to the size of a polo pony, which was set at thirteen hands and two inches. In today’s thriving scene, there is no limit to how large a pony can be, provided freedom and ease of movement are not compromised.
Polo ponies are usually bred from horses already experienced on the polo scene. The horses you see today have come from a long line of high quality polo ponies, and are the result of meticulous selection and careful breeding. Over the last century, the popularity and widespread nature of polo has led to highly developed skill in breeding, and specialist knowledge as to how to develop the very best ponies for the sport of kings. More often than not, mares are used for breeding in polo. They are said to have a better temperament for the game, and can provide equity when they themselves are able to breed.
As a rule, there is no limit or specification as to which breed of horse can be used for playing polo. The temperament of the horse is the higher concern. The perfect pony has the stamina, strength and dexterity required for intense play. This pony must also be reliably calm under pressure. Often, the speed of the thoroughbred is crossed with the endurance and adaptability of wilder, mountain horses. In recent years, the most popular of these crosses is the criollo horse of Argentina.
It is often said that the pony accounts for 80% of the game. Even the best player in the world cannot achieve success if their horse is not fit for play.
Polo ponies must be conditioned and trained in strength and ability. The job they do is a demanding one, carrying heavy tack on their bodies and muscular riders on their backs.
After a minimum of one year of careful schooling, a polo pony will learn how to track the ball on the field, cleverly balancing movements and positioning itself so that the ball can be hit by the rider’s mallet. The concentration and agility required starts to be taught when the pony is young, so that by 6 or 7 years old, when the pony is in its physical prime, the skills to be a fantastic polo mount are already ingrained.
The grooming of a polo pony is not just a matter of being presentable at formal competitions and events. The distinctive, beautifully neat manes and tails ensure the safety of the horse during play and training. Often, pony’s tail will be wrapped, in coloured bands that match the bandages and team colours. The mane is shaved or sometimes braided short. In this energetic game, there is otherwise the risk that long flowing hair will be caught up in the mallet or reins of the rider or others.
chukkas and polo ponies
For the polo player who competes, it is not enough just to have one expertly trained, skilled horse. The match is divided into a total of six chukkers, which each last seven and a half minutes. Although this may not sound lengthy, a pony can run two miles in one chukka, with quick twists, turns and stops that all add up to a pretty demanding period of play. Because of the athletic energy expended by a pony in a single chukka, a mount is ‘rested’ and exchanged for another, ready for resuming play. The number in a string of ponies for one player depends mostly on how demanding the game is. In other words, a low goal match may only require 2 ponies, but at the highest goal matches, the string may be 4 or more in size. These are the matches at the highest level of competition, where 2 or more ponies are used for a single chukka. This gives the spectator an ideal of just how much energy and stamina is expended in this thrilling game.