Man & Horse

Immense Skill and Strategy

The game of polo has many times been compared to a chess game on horseback. A combination of man and horse covers the ground at terrific speed in pursuit of a small white ball over a ten-acre board.

Polo is a game of immense skill and strategy with each player anticipating every play. In an evenly matched game, the team with the best anticipation will quite often win.

It is not a difficult game to follow once you understand the flow and become familiar with the terminology. Watching the ball is not the key, watch the individual players up and down the field to determine who will control the ball. The key concept is the “line of the ball,” or the path the player travels to reach the ball. A right-of-way is defined by the players position relative to the direction of the ball. This is one of the many points of polo that enables the players to travel at top speed avoiding dangerous collisions. The game has a severe penalty system to ensure the safety of horse and rider. A few explanations are listed below.

The Game

A game of six chukkers (periods) runs 1 1/2 hours. Each chukker lasts seven minutes and thirty seconds overtime in each period except the final chukker. In the event of a tie, there is sudden-death overtime.

The game commences with both teams lined up at midfield. The umpire “throws in” the ball underhanded. The game plan is to strike the ball at speed with a player holding a mallet in one hand and the reins in the other. Once in control of the ball, the player can pass to a team mate or direct the ball to goal.

The goalposts are set eight yards apart at each end of the field.

The Players

The four players representing a team execute designated positions. The number 1 and number 2 positions are the main offensive; they are equivalent to wide receivers and run for passes from the quarterback (number 3). The number 3 captains the team, he also acts defensively when the opposing team attacks his goal. The number 4 man is a defensive back and guards his goal. He must also be capable of making strong, accurate backhand shots.


Each player is rated a handicap by the U.S. Polo Association. Handicaps range from -2 to 10. The more accomplished a player, the higher his handicap. The team handicap is the combined handicap of the four players. The team with the lowest handicap is awarded the difference in goals. A team with an 11 goal handicap against a 12 goal handicap team will commence their play with the scoreboard already one goal up for the 11 goal handicap team. Player handicaps are revised annually by the U.S.P.A. and are based on the individual player’s horsepower, game strategy, hitting ability, and overall value to a team. Two thirds of U.S. players are handicapped 1 goal or less. A player handicapped at 5 goals or above, is a fine horseman and considered a master of the sport.


Each player averages six horses in a 6-chukker game and plays a different horse each period, although in some cases, a good horse may be played two chukkers in a 6-chukker game. Many players will credit their horses being 70 percent of the game.

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