The object of the game is to move the polo ball down the field, hitting the ball through the goal posts to score. The teams then change direction after each goal to compensate for field and wind conditions. A team is made up of four polo players.
Usually matches are played outdoors. The field is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide. The match lasts about one and a half to two hours long and is divided into timed periods called chukkers.
Each chukker is 7 ½ minutes long. There is a warning bell after 7 minutes of play to signify 30 seconds remain in that chukker. There are normally 6 chukkers per match with a half time after the 3rd chukker during which time spectators go onto the field to participate in the tradition of “stomping divots” to replace turf that has been displaced by the horses hooves (many matches are only 4 chukkers in length with a half time after 2 chukkers).
Play begins with the throw-in of the ball by the umpire at the opening of each chukker and after each goal is scored.
Players will change horses after each chukker due the extreme demands placed on the polo pony. Polo players are ranked yearly by their peers and the USPA on a scale of -2 to 10 goals. Team play is handicapped on the basis of ability.
Most of the rules of polo are for the safety of the polo players and their ponies. The basic concept is the line of the ball, a right-of-way established by the path of the traveling ball.
Basic Polo Terminology
Bump: When a player directs his pony into the side of an opponent’s pony to move an opposing player off the line of the ball. This must be done at an angle of less than 45.
Chukker: Term used for period of play in polo. seven and a half minutes long. there are six chukkers in a match.
Goal: Anytime the ball crosses the line between the goal posts, regardless of who(including ponies) knocks it through.
Handicap: Team play is handicapped on the basis of ability on a scale of -2 to 10. A team’s handicap is the total of its players’ goal ratings. The team with the lower handicap is awarded the difference in goals at the start of the match.
Hook: Catching an opponent’s mallet in swing below the level of the horse’s back, to leave the ball for a teammate.
Knock in: After the ball crosses the back line, the defending team knocks the ball back into play from their own back line.
Line of the ball: The imaginary line produced by the ball when it is hit or deflected.
Mallet head: The part of the mallet used to strike the ball, the wide face of the head is used to strike the ball.
Nearside: The left hand side of the polo pony. The Offside is the right hand side of the polo pony.
Penalty: Numbered from 1-10. A free hit is awarded to the fouled team, from a set distance determined by the severity of the foul committed. Most occur because players improperly cross the line of the ball.
Positions: There are four players per team #1-4. The most experienced/highest rated usually play positions 2 and 3.#1 is an attacking offensive player.#2 is Primarily an offensive player. #3 primary play maker and #4 is a defensive player.
Ride off: Two riders may make contact and attempt to push each other off the line of the ball to prevent an opponent from striking the ball.
Safety: Also known as a Penalty 6, a defending player hits the ball over his own back line.
Sideboards: Short boards along the sidelines of the field to help keep the ball in play.
Stick: The polo mallet.
Swing: Hitting the ball using one of the four basic shots: forehand, backhand, neck and tail.
Tack: All the equipment used on a polo pony.
Throw in: Play is started by throwing the ball down the center of a line-up of players and horses.
USPA: United States Polo Association is the governing body of polo.