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If you’re new to the game of Polo, let’s start with some simple things!
there are two teams with four players each. Each player has a rating, which is the number in parentheses after their names. This rating marks their skill and accomplishment in the sport. It ranges from -2 as a relative novice to a 10, which is appropriatly the best.
Coordinators try to match the total rating numbers so that the teams are about on a similar skill level. Once in a while, by circumstance, one team may rate higher than the other. In that case, the lesser rated team gets extra score points when the game starts. If that happens, you can see this easily on the score board.POLO in WellingtonPOLO in Wellington
every players brings along a ‘string’ of polo ponies, usually between eight and twelve horses per game. Players change their horses often because the animals are constantly sprinting and will turn on a dime. That’s exhausting and not particularly good for their health.
Polo horses typically are shorter than let’s say, jumpers. They have a particular training which makes them superior athletes in the equestrian world. They’re flexible to move around, quick, and they don’t mind being part of a team.
a ‘Patron’ is the owner of a team, usually someone with considerable resources and a passion for the sport. Most patrons will want to play in their team themselves. And while they are quite accomplished players, by sheer lack of time (they usually have sizeable businessses to run) their ratings are mostly lower than that of their team mates.
But they make up for it in importance, due to the fact that these Patrons enable the sport of Polo. Only with their input and effort can there be exciting games for all to watch.
During every match, there are two umpires on the field. They ride along and keep an eye on the players, to make sure all rules are obeyed.
In case of any discrepancies, there is always an instant replay official ‘IRO’, whose judgment is the final word. It overrules the decision of the umpires, which may change their call.
You can also see two flag judges, one behind the goal posts on either side of the field.
See more on the sport’s rules here: https://www.uspolo.org/sport/rules
The Polo field:
At a size of 160 yards by 300 yards, it has roughly the size of nine American Football fields. But if you ask a player, that size can shrink quickly for them during the game.
You will see the field being ‘framed’ on the long sides by wooden boards. These are not mandatory, but they make it easier for players and ponies to stay within the playing field.
Also, you can observe that the fields are crowned (a shallow incline towards the center of the field) to help drainage. It is not safe to play on a rain-soaked field, and typically games may be postponed because of it.
Games usually last between 1 1/2 to two hours. Objective is to drive the ball between the opposing team’s goal posts.
After each goal, the direction is switched to equalize weather conditions for both teams.
Chukkers are the game periods in each match. Usually, there are six chukkers that last 7:30 minutes each. About half way through each chukker, the umpires will allow for a 30 second break that is designed to let the players do a ‘courtesy change’. That means a fresh horse for each player outside of their usual changes. After three chukkers, there is a halftime for players, officials and spectators to take a little break.
It is during this halftime when visitors come out on the field to secure the divots back in place which had been kicked up by the ponies’ hooves. Overturned divots can cause a hazard for ponies and players, because it’s easy to trip during a sprint.
Be kind and stomp the divots – the horses and people will thank you for it!
It’s the “stick” with which the ball is hit. The ball is struck with the wide side of the head of a mallet. Each mallet is custom made for each player and varies in length to accommodate the height of his individual horses.
It is amazing how flexible the shaft of the mallet is. Traditionally made from cane, it’s also rather durable. In addition, today you can find mallets made from composite materials. It’s a modern trend to search for ever improved gear, just like in many other sports.
Troy has his own little tradition since our first 40-goal match in Boca in the Nineties. Here he is presenting newbie Patricia with a Polo ball.
Most Polo balls are made from plastic, and they start out as a perfect sphere. During the game however, after being struck countless times, the ball will resemble a fine Austrian potato dumpling, with dents and flat spots, to make it not much resemble the ball it started out to be.
Stick and Ball:
Generally a short practice session, often performed before a game. Many times you can see a single player riding onto the field, just to warm up with a little ‘stick-and-ball’.
A Bit of Polo History:
It is believed that the sport of Polo emerged in Central Asia, most likely in Persia. It was played by mounted nomadic tribes for entertainment and status from about 300 years BC.
Over the ensuing centuries and during the Middle Ages, the game spread to India, Arabia, Tibet and later Japan.
Starting in the 19th Century, Polo made its way to Europe and the Western World via British soldiers who picked up the game in India. It was in that country where the first Polo Club was formed, in Silchar, Assam. The world’s oldest remaining Polo club is the Imphal Polo Ground in Manipur State.
It was again the British and Irish immigrants who brought Polo to Argentina, where it remains a most popular sport today. Argentina can claim fame to the fact that the sport’s best players come from that country. The most prestigious tournament, The Argentine Open, is played there each November.
The first Polo match in the United States was played in 1876 in New York City. Westchester Polo Club, United States’ first, was established that same year. (History tidbits, source: Wikipedia)
As for Wellington, it was Bill Ylvisaker who brought Polo into town in the seventies. Things went on from there, and today Wellington can pride itself to host North America’s most prestigious and high goal tournaments.
It is also home to the Polo Museum and Hall of Fame, thanks to Brenda and George Dupont. We are very grateful for people to be guardians of Wellington’s and the US Polo history. Heartfelt thanks go to the late Chris Vining, who so vividly and competently hosted a series of lectures on the history of Polo in the US.
May the sport continue to bring joy to countless present and future generations!
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