the rules of polo explained
The rules of polo
Read on to discover the rules of polo, the sport of kings. Alongside them, we explain certain customs that are quintessentially polo. Polo has been described as a little like hockey. The difference is that it is played with mallets, on horses, and with a goalkeeper who is very difficult to knock down!
This thrilling game is one of high-pace and powerful bodies. Therefore, the rules look out for the safety of the players and ponies alike. Two umpires on horseback are present at each game, and use whistles to signal fouls and penalties. Spectators in the stands may see the umpires consulting each other after the accusation of a foul. They may even refer to a ‘third man’, as he is called, who gives a second opinion in the case of a dispute.
The object of the game
The object of the game in polo is to use mallets to hit the polo ball down the field, and finally through the goal posts. Two teams of four players each are required for a game. Each game lasts one and a half hours, and is made up of chukkers that are seven and a half minutes long.
Opening the game
At the beginning of each chukker, the polo ball is rolled onto the pitch. This is also referred to as the ‘throw-in’. The ball is rolled in between the two teams, who line up facing eachother. Each line is made up of the team’s players who place themselves in order of their number.
How is the polo field set up?
A polo field is set to specific measurements. The goal is eight yards wide, with ten-foot goal posts either side. They stand on a field that is 300 yards in length and 160 yards wide. In games where spectator stands are near to the field, it is ‘boarded’, meaning that painted boards line the sides of the field.
The tradition of changing directions
Points scored are in fact goals. After each goal scored, the two teams change directions on the field. It is often postulated that teams changed sides frequently to avoid the sun’s glare on the field that ran east-west. This practice is at least 150 years old.
The advantage of changing directions regularly throughout the game is to ’level up the playing field’ in terms of conditions. In other words, as the polo field becomes rough during play or due to weather conditions, no side should be confined to that area for the entire game.
The divot-stomping custom
At halftime, the divot-stomping takes place. This popular custom is one that allows spectators to leave the stands and come onto the pitch, participating in the ceremony of the game. Divots are the patches of grass kicked up by the ponies during play. Spectators are invited onto the field to tread down the grass, ready for the beginning of the second half.
A little known fact about polo is its ban on left-handed players. The rules of polo exist to protect the safety of all players, it is more prudent to ensure that they are uniform in the way that they handle and drive their mallets.
What is the right of way?
The right of way describes a key in the rules of polo. It has to do with the line of the ball, which is the imaginary line that the ball is expected to travel along. The player who finds himself in the line of the ball has a right of way. The most common foul in polo is to cross the line of the ball
To further look out for the player’s safety, there are certain requirements for proper equipment must be observed by all. A helmet, some kneepads and a quality polo stick are key items, and for sunny climates such as La Pampa of polo fame, special goggle glasses are used to protect the eyes.
Traditionally, polo balls were made out of bamboo. Today, however, you will find hard plastic balls in white (red for snow). The high quality, durable balls are perfect for any weather and can withstand play.