AskDefine | Define polo

Dictionary Definition



1 Venetian traveler who explored Asia in the 13th century and served Kublai Khan (1254-1324) [syn: Marco Polo]
2 a game similar to field hockey but played on horseback using long-handled mallets and a wooden ball

User Contributed Dictionary



From the etyl bft word rfscript Tibetan pulu, meaning ball.



  1. A ball game where two teams of players on horseback use long-handled mallets to propel the ball along the ground and into their opponent's goal.


  • Portuguese: pólo
  • Spanish: polo

Derived terms

  • polo shirt - A T-shaped shirt with a collar and two buttons.
  • polo neck - A garment, usually a sweater, with a round, high collar that folds over and covers the neck. (Can also be used as an adjective, e.g. polo-necked jumper.)
  • water polo - A version of the game above, played in a swimming pool instead of on horseback.

Usage notes

The word polo has the following commercial uses:
  • Polo Mints - A white mint flavoured sweet with a hole in the centre.
  • VW Polo - A type of car manufactured by Volkswagen




From the verb polkea.


  • lang=fi|[ˈpolo]
  • Rhymes: -olo
  • Hyphenation: po·lo


  1. italbrac Descriptive Poor, one to be pitied.
    poor boy''



  • Hakkinen 2005}}



Extensive Definition

Polo is a team sport played outdoors on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Riders score by driving a white wooden or plastic ball (size 3–3.5 inches, weight 4.25–4.75 ounces) into the opposing team's goal using a long-handled mallet. Goals are only valid if the scoring rider is mounted. The traditional sport of polo is played outdoors, and each polo team consists of four riders and their mounts.
The modern indoor variant is called arena polo. In arena polo, there are 3 instead of four players on each team and chukkas are 7 1/2 minutes in length. The playing area is 300′ x 150′.
Another modern variant is snow polo, which is played either outdoor or indoor on snow on a frozen ground or ice. Each team generally consists of three players and also the equipment differs from the sport of polo. Other variants include elephant polo, bike polo and Segway polo. These sports are considered as separate sports because of the differences in the composition of teams, equipment, rules, game facilities etc.


Polo was first played in the Persian Empire (modern day Iran) at dates given from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD. Polo was at first a training game for cavalry units, usually the king's guard or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen, who played it with as many as 100 to a side, it was a miniature battle. Certainly Persian literature and art give us the richest accounts of polo in antiquity. Ferdowsi, the famed Iranian poet-historian, gives a number of accounts of royal polo tournaments in his 9th century epic, Shahnameh (the Epic of Kings). In the earliest account, Ferdowsi romanticizes an international match between Turanian force and the followers of Siyâvash, a legendary Persian prince from the earliest centuries of the Empire; the poet is eloquent in his praise of Siyâvash's skills on the polo field. Ferdowsi also tells of Emperor Shapur II of the Sassanid dynasty of the 4th century who learned to play polo when he was only seven years old.
Valuable for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan by the Middle Ages. Known in the East as the Game of Kings. The modern game of polo, though formalized and popularized by the British, is derived from the princes of the Tibeto-Burman kingdom of Manipur (now a state in India) in the Southeastern Himalaya, who played the game while they were in exile in India sometime between 1819 and 1826.
The princes were on the run from the Burmese who had overrun their kingdom during what was called the Seven Years' Devastation. The first polo club was established in the town of Silchar in Assam, India, in 1834.
The origins of the game in Manipur are traced to early precursors of Sagol Kangjei. This was one of three forms of hockey in Manipur, the other ones being field hockey (called Khong Kangjei) and wrestling-hockey (called Mukna Kangjei). Local rituals such as those connected to the Marjing, the Winged-Pony God of Polo and the creation-ritual episodes of the Lai Haraoba festival enacting the life of his son, Khori-Phaba, the polo-playing god of sports. These may indicate an origin prior to the historical records of Manipur, which go back to the 1st Century A.D.
In Manipur, polo is traditionally played with seven players to a side. The players are mounted on the indigenous Manipuri pony, which stands less than 13 hands high. There are no goal posts and a player scored simply by hitting the ball out of either end of the field. Players were also permitted to carry the ball, though that allowed opponents to physically tackle players when they do so. The sticks were made of cane and the balls were made from the roots of bamboo. Colorful cloth pom-poms dangle at sensitive and vulnerable spots around the anatomy of the ponies in order to protect them. Players protected their legs by attaching leather shields to their saddles and girths.
In Manipur, the game was not merely a "rich" game but was played even by commoners who owned a pony.
James Gordon Bennett, Jr. organized the first polo match in the United States at Dickel's Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. During the early part of the 20th century, under the leadership of Harry Payne Whitney, polo changed to become a high-speed sport in the United States, differing from the game in England, where it involved short passes to move the ball toward the opposition's goal. Whitney and his teammates used the fast break, sending long passes downfield to riders who had broken away from the pack at a full gallop.
The oldest polo ground in the world is the Imphal Polo Ground in Manipur State established by the British in India. The history of this pologround is contained in the royal chronicle "Cheitharol Kumbaba" starting from AD 33. Lieutenant Sherer, the father of modern polo visited the state and played on this polo ground in the 1850s. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India visited the state in 1901 and measured the pologround as 225 yards long and 110 yards wide. The oldest royal polo square is the 16th century Gilgit Polo Field, Pakistan, while the highest polo ground in the world is on the deosai Plateau Baltistan, Pakistan at 4307 meters (14,000 ft). The oldest polo club in the world still in existence is the Calcutta Polo Club (1862).

The game

Field polo requires two teams of 4 players each mounted on horseback to play the game. The field is 300 yards long, and either 200 yards or 160 yards wide if there are side boards—these are generally 6" high. There are lightweight goalposts on each side of the field spread 8 yards apart. The object of the game is to score the most goals by hitting the ball through the goal.
In arena polo, played mainly in the United States in large arenas such as armories and riding academies, the size of the field varies due to the size of the floor space, but 100 yards long by 50 yards wide is ideal. Arena polo requires teams of three riders, and goals are scored by passing the ball into a 10' goal recessed into the sideboards. Arena polo uses a ball between 12.5" and 15" inches in circumference and looks like a miniature soccer ball but is not the same pattern .
A polo game has periods of play, known as chukkas (also chukkers). This term originated in 1898 and is derived from Hindi chakkar from Sanskrit chakra "circle, wheel" (compare chakka). Depending on the rules of the particular tournament or league, a game may have 4, 6 or 8 chukkas; 6 chukkas are most common. Usually, each chukka is 7 minutes long, but some games are played in shorter chukkas. Between chukkas, the players switch to fresh ponies. In less competitive polo leagues, players may play only two ponies, alternating between them. For more competitive leagues, and in United States intercollegiate polo, each pony is played in at most two chukkas.
Games are often played with a handicap in which the sum of the individual players' respective handicaps are compared. The team with the lower handicap is given the difference in handicaps as goals before the start of the game.
The game begins with the two teams of four lined up each team in line forming two rows with the players in order 1, 2, 3, 4 facing the umpire in the center of the playing field. There are two mounted umpires on the field and a referee standing on the sidelines. At the beginning of a game, one of the umpires bowls the ball in hard between the two teams. Teams change goals on ends of the field/arena after each score or chukker for indoor to minimize any wind advantage which may exist. Switching sides also allows each team equal opportunity to start off with the ball on their right side, as all players must hit right-handed.

Player positions

Each position assigned to a player has certain responsibilities:
  • Number One is the most offensive position on the field. The number one position generally covers the opposing team's number four.
  • Number Two is the most difficult position on the field to play. The number two has an important offensive role of either running through and scoring himself, or passing to the number one and getting in behind him. Defensively he will cover the opposing team's number three--generally the other team's best player. Given the difficulty of this position, it is not uncommon for the best player on the team to play number two so long as another strong player is available to play three.
  • Number Three is the tactical leader and must be a long powerful hitter to feed balls to Number Two and Number One as well as maintaining a solid defense. The best player on the team is usually the Number Three player (Usually wielding the highest handicap).
  • Number Four is the primary defense player and though he can move anywhere on the field, he often tries to prevent scoring. The excessive defense of the number four allows the number three to commit to more offensive plays knowing he will be covered if he loses the ball.

Polo ponies

The mounts used are called 'polo ponies', although the term pony is purely traditional and the mount is actually a full-sized horse. They range from 14.2 to 16 hands high at the withers (one hand equals four inches or 10.16cm), and weigh between 900-1100 lbs. The polo pony is selected carefully for quick bursts of speed, stamina, agility and maneuverability. Temperament is critical; the horse must remain responsive under pressure and not become excited or difficult to control. Many are Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses. They are trained to be handled with one hand on the reins, and to be responsive to the rider's leg and weight cues for moving forward, turning and stopping. A well trained horse will carry his rider smoothly and swiftly to the ball and can account for 60 to 75 percent of the player's skill and net worth to his team.
Polo training generally begins at age three and lasts from about six months to two years. Most horses reach full physical maturity at about age five, and ponies are at their peak of athleticism and training at around age 6 or 7. However, without any accidents, polo ponies may have the ability to play until they are 18 to 20 years of age.
More than one pony is needed to play polo in order to allow tired mounts to be changed for fresh mounts between or even during chukkas. The group of ponies for a given player is commonly referred to as a "string of polo ponies", with a minimum of 2 or 3 ponies in Low Goal matches (with ponies being rested for at least a chukker before reuse), 4 or more ponies for Medium Goal matches (at least one per chukker), many more for the highest levels of competition.


Each team consists of four mounted players, which can be mixed teams of both men and women. The Number 1 is expected to score the goals and carry out an offensive position. He is usually the least experienced. The Number 2 is also an offensive player but has to be more aggressive since his objective is also to break up the defensive plays of the opposition. The Number 3 is the pivot man, similar to a quarterback in American football, and he is usually the long ball hitter and play maker for the team. He usually hits the penalty shots and knock-ins. The Number 4, or back, is the defensive player. He is usually the most conservative player and his job is to guard the goal and keep the opposition from scoring.
Polo must be played right-handed. Left-handed play was ruled out in 1975 for safety reasons. To date, only 3 players on the world circuit are left-handed.


The basic dress of a player is a protective helmet (usually of a distinctive color, to be distinguished at the considerable distance from which onlookers are watching the game), riding boots to just below the knees, white trousers (often ordinary denim jeans), and a colored shirt bearing the number of the player's position. Optional equipment includes one or two gloves, wristbands, kneepads (mandatory in some clubs), spurs, face mask, and a whip.
The outdoor polo ball is made of a high compact plastic, but was formerly made of either bamboo or willow root. The indoor polo ball is leather-covered and inflated and is about 4½ inches (11.4 cm) in diameter. The outdoor ball is about 3¼ inches (8.3 cm) in diameter and weighs about four ounces (113.4 g). The polo mallet has a rubber-wrapped grip and a webbed thong, called thumb sling, for wrapping around the hand. The shaft is made of bamboo-cane with a hardwood head approximately 9½ inches in length. The mallet head weighs from 160 grams to 240 grams, depending on player preference and the type of wood used, and the shaft can vary in weight and flexibility depending on the player’s preference. The weight of the mallet head (also called "cigar") is of important consideration for the more seasoned players. Female players almost always use lighter mallets and cigars than male players. For some polo players, the length of the polo mallet depends on the size of the horse: the taller the horse, the longer the mallet. However, some players prefer to use a single length of mallet regardless of the height of the horse. Either way, playing horses of differing heights requires some adjustment by the rider. Variable sizes of the mallet range from 48 inches to 53 inches. The ball is struck with the longer sides of the mallet head rather than its round and flat tips.
Polo saddles are English-style, similar to jumping saddles although most polo saddles lack a flap under the billets, having instead a saddle blanket. Some players omit the saddle blanket. A breastplate is added, usually attached to the front billet. A tie-down (standing Martingale) may be used: if so, for safety a breastplate is a necessity. Usually the tie-down is supported by a neck strap. An overgirth may be used. The stirrup irons are heavier than most, and the stirrup leathers are wider and thicker, for added safety when the player stands in the stirrups. The legs of the pony are wrapped with polo wraps from below the knee to the fetlock to prevent injury. Often, these wraps match the team colors. The pony's mane is roached (hogged), and its tail is braided so that it will not snag the rider's mallet.
The bit frequently is a gag bit or Pelham bit. If a gag bit, there will be a drop noseband in addition to the cavesson supporting the tie-down. There frequently will be two sets of reins, and one set of reins frequently will be a draw rein.

The field

The playing field is 300 yards long by 160 yards wide, the approximate area of nine American football fields. The playing field is carefully maintained with closely mowed turf providing a safe, fast playing surface. Goals are posts which are set eight yards apart, centered at each end of the field. The surface of a polo field requires careful and constant grounds maintenance to keep the surface in good playing condition. During half-time of a match, spectators are invited to go onto the field to participate in a polo tradition called "divot stomping", which has developed to not only help replace the mounds of earth (divots) that are torn up by the horses's hooves, but to afford spectators the opportunity to walk about and socialize.

Outdoor polo

The game consists of six 7 minute chukkas, between or during which players change mounts. At the end of each 7 minute chukka, play continues for an additional 30 seconds or until a stoppage in play, whichever comes first. There is a four minute interval between chukkas and a ten minute halftime. Play is continuous and is only stopped for penalties, broken tack (equipment) or injury to horse or player. The object is to score goals by hitting the ball between the goal posts, no matter how high in the air. If the ball goes wide of the goal, the defending team is allowed a free 'knock-in' from the place where the ball crossed the goal line, thus getting the ball back into play.

Indoor polo

The game consists of four 7 and a half minute periods also called chukkas, during which players may change mounts. Play is continuous and is only stopped for penalties, broken tack (equipment) or injury to horse or player. The object is to score goals by hitting the ball between the goal posts (which is usually a door with motion sensors). Balls cannot go out of bounds unless the arena played in doesn't have nets or anything to stop the ball going over the 4.5' wall. If the ball goes over it is considered a dead ball and is then bowled in. The arena is smaller than the field that polo is played on outside. Because of the small size of the arena, indoor polo play is slower than outdoor.

The contemporary sport

Polo is now an active sport in 77 countries, and although its tenure as an Olympic sport was limited to 19001939, in 1998 the International Olympic Committee recognised it as a sport with a bona fide international governing body, the Federation of International Polo.
Polo is, however, played professionally in only a few countries, notably Argentina, France, England, Chile, Pakistan, India, Australia, Spain, Canada, Mexico and the United States. Polo is unique among team sports in that amateur players, often the team patrons, routinely hire and play alongside the sport's top professionals.
Argentina dominates the professional sport, as its polo team has been the uninterrupted world champion since 1949 and is today the source of most of the world's 10-goal (i.e., top-rated) players. In Argentina, polo players are known as "polistas." In the world of polo, Argentina's Heguy family, Pieres family, or Castagnola family, are to polo what the Barrymore family is to acting or the Khan family to squash. The Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo tournament—over 100 years old—remains the most important polo competitions in the world.
The U.S. is unique in possessing a professional women's polo league and a men's professional polo league: the United States Women's Polo Federation and the United States Men's Polo Federation, founded in 2000. The 32-team league plays across the country.
The modern sport has had difficulty grappling with the traditional social and economic exclusivity associated with a game that is inevitably expensive when played at a serious level. Many polo athletes genuinely desire to broaden public participation in the sport, both as an end in itself and to increase the standard of play. The popularity of polo has grown steadily since the 1980s, and its future appears to have been greatly strengthened by its return as a varsity sport at universities across the world.
The World Polo Championship is held every three years by the Federation of International Polo. Brazil won three of the last 4 and came second once. Arena (or indoor) polo is an affordable option for many who wish to play the sport, and the rules are similar. The sport is played in a 300 feet by 150 feet enclosed arena, much like those used for other equestrian sports; the minimum size is 150 feet by 75 feet. There are many arena clubs in the United States, and most major polo clubs, including the Santa Barbara Polo & Raquet Club, have active arena programs. The major differences between the outdoor and indoor games are: speed (outdoor being faster), physicality/roughness (indoor/arena is more physical), ball size (indoor is larger), goal size (because the arena is smaller the goal is smaller), and some penalties. In the United States and Canada, collegiate polo is arena polo; in the UK, collegiate polo is both.

Polo in South East Asia

After an 18 year absence, polo gained Olympic recognition when it was played at the 2007 Southeast Asian Games. Nations that competed in the tournament were Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines. The tournament's gold medal was won by the Malaysian team, followed by Singapore with silver and Thailand with bronze.
The recent surge of excitement in south-east Asia around the game has resulted in its popularity in cities such as Pattaya, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. In Pattaya alone, there are 3 active polo clubs (Polo Escape, Siam Polo Park and Thai Polo and Equestrian Club. Indonesia, a country without royal ruling, has a polo club (Nusantara Polo Club). A South East Asian Polo Federation was formed with initial meeting in March 2008 that involves Royal Malaysian Polo Association, Thailand Polo Association, Indonesian Polo Association, Singapore Polo Association, Royal Brunai Polo Association and The Philippines Polo Association .

Notable polo players

Related sports

  • Buzkashi involves two teams of horsemen, a dead goat and few rules. It is played in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is the national game of Afghanistan and a possible precursor of polo.
  • Cowboy polo uses rules similar to regular polo, but riders compete with western saddles, usually in a smaller arena, using an inflatable rubber medicine ball.
  • Horseball is a game played on horseback where a ball is handled and points are scored by shooting it through a high net. The sport is a combination of polo, rugby, and basketball.
  • Kokpar is a Kazakh game similar to Buzkashi.
  • Polocrosse is another game played on horseback, a cross between polo and lacrosse.
  • Pato was played in Argentina for centuries, but is much different than modern polo. No mallets are used, and it is not played on grass.

Polo variants

Polo is not played exclusively on horseback. Such polo variants are mostly played for recreational or touristic purposes; they include canoe polo, cycle polo, camel polo, elephant polo, golfcart polo, Segway polo, BMX polo, yak polo and water polo.

Charitable polo matches in the United States

  • The Courage Cup is an annual event held on the third Saturday in June in the Greater Washington, DC area at Sheila C. Johnson Field at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia. The Courage Cup, is a non-profit corporation which hosts this polo fund raiser to raise funds for Work to Ride, a community-based prevention program that aids disadvantaged urban youth through constructive activities centered on horsemanship, equine sports and education.
  • America's Polo Cup is the world’s only invitational polo sporting event on an international level. On May 9-10, 2008, the America’s Polo Cup will feature the United States challenging Italy for the America’s Polo Cup.


  • Polo by Penina Meisels and Michael Cronan. Collins Publishers, San Francisco, 1992. ISBN 0-00-637796-3
polo in Arabic: بولو
polo in Catalan: Polo
polo in Czech: Pólo
polo in Danish: Polo
polo in German: Polo (Sport)
polo in Estonian: Polo
polo in Spanish: Polo (deporte)
polo in Persian: چوگان
polo in French: Polo
polo in Scottish Gaelic: Polo
polo in Galician: Polo (deporte)
polo in Croatian: Polo
polo in Ido: Polo (sporto)
polo in Indonesian: Polo
polo in Italian: Polo (sport)
polo in Hebrew: פולו
polo in Georgian: ცხენბურთი
polo in Haitian: Polo
polo in Maltese: Pulu
polo in Marathi: पोलो
polo in Dutch: Polo (sport)
polo in Japanese: ポロ
polo in Norwegian: Polo
polo in Polish: Polo (sport)
polo in Portuguese: Pólo (esporte)
polo in Russian: Поло
polo in Slovak: Pólo
polo in Serbian: Поло (спорт)
polo in Finnish: Poolo
polo in Swedish: Hästpolo
polo in Ukrainian: Поло
polo in Urdu: پولو
polo in Chinese: 馬上曲棍球
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