Polo 101

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Polo is a team sport that is commonly played outdoors on a grass field. The teams consist of four mounted players. A regulation size field is 300 yards long by 160 yards wide when each side is lined with 11 inch high boards (to keep the ball in play) and 200 yards wide for a field with no sideboards. A regulation size field is the largest field in organized sports and is approximately the size of 9 football fields. To accommodate for smaller properties, games can be played on abbreviated sized fields (for instance at MacNair's Country Acres, the field is 200 yards long by 100 yards wide). A polo game usually lasts 90 minutes and is divided into 6 time periods called chukkers. Each chukker lasts 7 1/2 minutes and there is a halftime between the 3rd and 4th chukker, during which spectators can leave their seats to help replace the divots on the field. The divot stomp is a time honored tradition in the polo world.


The object of the game is to move a small plastic ball, which is 3 inches in diameter, down the field by hitting it with a 4 1/2 foot mallet made out of bamboo with a hard wooden head. Players hit the ball with the side of the mallet head, not the end as it is done in croquet. The game starts with a "bowl-in" by the umpire. The teams line up at mid-field on their prospective sides and the empire rolls the ball down the alley created by the players. This bowl-in also occurs after every goal and to start each chukker, unless it is behind the end line. To score a goal, one must hit the ball between two goal posts which are 24 feet apart. After each goal, the teams switch directions so that no team is disadvantaged by wind direction or field imperfections. After six chukkers, if the game is tied players will get a 10 minute break and return to the field for a sudden-death overtime chukker. The first team to score a goal wins.


Players are ranked based on their ability. The United States Polo Association (USPA) is the governing body of polo in the United States. A player's rating or handicap is based on their riding, hitting, quality of horses and ability to strategize. The handicap systems work on a scale of -2 goals (complete beginner) all the way up to 10 goals (perfect). A player's handicap does not correlate with the number of goals they score in a game, but more accurately reflects how well rounded they are as a player. During a polo match, the handicap of each player on a team is added together to find the team's total handicap. Teams play teams of the same or similar handicap. If a team's total handicap is higher than their opponent's, they will award that team a number of goals to make up the difference.


The horses used in polo are often referred to as "ponies", but they are full grown horses. Polo ponies are usually thoroughbreds and generally stand between 15 and 15.3 hands high (a "hand" is a measurement tool for horses and equals 4 inches. Horses are measured from the ground to the "withers", at the lowest point of the mane or neck). Thoroughbreds are mainly used because of their speed, endurance and intelligence. Polo ponies must be agile, fast, have great stamina and be highly intelligent to play polo.


There are two mounted officials on the field called umpires. They help keep the game fair and safe. There is a referee, called a third man, who sits at midfield and serves as a tie-breaker if the two mounted officials are in disagreement on a certain call. Umpires are trained through the USPA and help to monitor play and prevent unsafe situations on the field. There are also two "goal judges" who help the umpires determine whether or not a goal is scored or if the ball goes out of bounds.


The four players on each team have numbered positions (1, 2, 3 & 4) which represent their role on the team. The number one player is usually out in front of the play and is mainly responsible for scoring the team's goals. The number two player is the worker of the team. He or she must be fast and aggressive to help move the ball up the field. The number three player is similar to a quarterback in that they make the plays and hit long balls up to the front. The number four is a defensive back position. There are no goalies in polo, but the number four's job is to stop the other team's offense and prevent goals. These players may shift all around the field and even switch roles during the game. Nothing is set in stone when it comes to polo positions.

Line of the Ball

The most important thing one must understand about polo is the line of the ball. The game is completely dependent upon an imaginary line. When the ball is hit by a player, an imaginary line is established in the direction that the ball is traveling and this line serves a similar purpose as the line that divides the highway. It establishes a right of way for the players and helps to keep polo as safe as possible, which is the ultimate goal. When a player hits the ball and follows its path, he or she has established their right of way and their right to hit the ball. Other players must respect that right of way and not cross in front of the rider making a play on the ball. Other players on the field can "steal" the right of way in a couple of ways:


Triangle Charity Polo Classic

There are many ways to hit a polo ball. A still player can direct the polo ball in any direction and at a distance of up to 150 yards. There are technically 12 different strokes in polo. A player may hit a ball on both sides of the horse, but must keep the mallet in their right hand. There are NO left handed players in the U.S. anymore. It is considered unsafe to have both left and right handed players on the field simultaneously due to the importance of the line of the ball. There are two main categories of strokes; the nearside (the left side) and the offside (the right side).

Polo Plays & Fouls

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