The History of Polo

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The Oldest Team Sport in the World

Triangle Charity Polo Classic - Polo History

More than 2,000 years ago, horsemen on the plains of Persia invented a game. Mounted on their warhorses, they practiced hitting a small ball with a long wooden stick. They built polo grounds - large flat fields, about the same size as we use today - and erected goal posts on each end. These posts were solid stone pillars, some of which are still standing in modern-day Iran.

The game drew hundreds of enthusiastic players and spread throughout the Middle and Far East. Chinese emperors and empresses played. Japanese warriors played. Even Alexander the Great played. Polo remained a popular sport for centuries. Eventually, it found its way to India, which is where it got its modern name. Polo, or "pulu" is the Manipuri Indian name for the willow root, from which the players made their ball.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Eastern game met the Western world. British Army officers and tea planters in Assam, India, watching the local people compete, got a hankering to try the sport themselves. Within months, polo was the rage among the officers, and it was not long before the game went home to England. There, the players formalized rules. The most influential rulebook came out of the Hurlingham Club, a sporting club on the banks of the Thames at Fulham. Originally founded as a meeting place for pigeon-shooters, Hurlingham turned to polo in the 1870s and never looked back. The Hurlingham rules eventually dominated the world of polo governing the game in many countries and forming the basis for national rules in others.

From England, polo spread throughout the lands of the British Empire. In the spring of 1876, it came to America in the luggage of James Gordon Bennett, an eccentric millionaire who was the publisher of the New York Herald. At least, he brought the balls and the mallets in his luggage. The horses came to Westchester County, New York from Texas. The first recorded game in America has an interesting story. Mr. Bennett invited a select group of local gentlemen to a dinner at his estate, at which he expounded upon the thrill of the "new" sport. At the meal's end, he brought the gentlemen out onto his lawn, where grooms held a dozen Texas cowponies. The gentlemen mounted up, swung their mallets at the ball and were instantly addicted. The new players bought the horses at 20 dollars apiece and began to play regularly in an indoor riding hall in New York City.

Polo caught on quickly in America, spreading anywhere that there were horses and people with leisure time. The first polo club in America, the Westchester Club, was founded in Newport Rhode Island in the summer of 1876. Polo then moved all over the country and The United States Polo Association (USPA) was founded in 1890 as the Polo Association. That year, the organization comprised five clubs. Today, there are about 250 polo clubs in 43 states. In addition, 34 colleges and universities across the country have collegiate polo programs that have introduced many new players to the game. There rare even interscholastic teams and leagues that compete for a national championship at the high school level.

Courtesy: Pam Gleason - Aiken Polo Club, SC

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