What’s Polo?

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Polo is an equestrian sport that originated in Persia and has been played for at least 2,000 years. It requires athleticism, skill, and cooperation, and is played on horses with long, flexible hammers. Polo ponies are full-sized horses selected for speed, agility, and obedience. The sport is played in short bouts called chukkas, and is popular in former British colonies. Polo training is hard work and riders often start with bike polo before adding horses. A game featuring talented players can be an impressive sight.

Polo is a dynamic equestrian sport that has been practiced throughout Asia and the Middle East for centuries. The West was introduced to the sport when the British colonized India and quickly spread the sport around the world. Numerous variations of classic polo have emerged, including on bicycles, camels and, for the brave, elephants. Like other equestrian sports, it requires immense athleticism, skill and cooperation, and a game featuring talented players can be an impressive sight.

The origins of the sport appear to lie in Persia, and the game has been played there for at least 2,000 years, as contemporary artwork and writings indicate. Polo slowly spread throughout Asia, where it was played by kings and courtiers. Many warriors played the game because it kept them and their horses fit and ready for battle. The name originates in Pakistan, where it means “ball” in Balti, a language native to that region.

There are two teams of three or four in a polo match, depending on the size of the field and the style of play being played. Each player has a long, flexible hammer which is used to strike a ball, with the intent of driving the ball through the opposing team’s goal. Polo is played in short bouts called chukkas; each chukka is seven minutes long and the game can be fierce. Traditionally, the horses are replaced with each chukka, ensuring they stay fresh and fit.

The horses used in the sport are called polo ponies, which is a bit of a misnomer since they are not actually ponies, but rather full-sized horses. Thoroughbreds are the traditional mounts, although other breeds may also be used. In all cases, the horses are selected for speed, agility and obedience. A good horse is able to stop on a dime, work with other horses and riders, and move quickly with the flow of the game; championship horses can command large sums at sales.

Polo training is hard work. Horses begin training at the age of two or three, and their training can take a year, and sometimes even more. Riders typically train heavily throughout the year, often starting with bike polo to familiarize themselves with the flow of the game before adding horses to the mix. Knights are often very attached to their mounts, as the two must cooperate well with each other on the playing field.

Competitive polo is played in several nations, particularly in the former British colonies. If you have the opportunity to see a match it is well worth attending, as things can get quite exciting, with the horses racing up and down the field displaying incredible feats of agility and strength. People interested in learning the sport can consult their local polo association to learn more about regional lessons, practices, and matches.

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