10 Things You Need to Know to Watch and Enjoy a Polo Match

10 Things You Need to Know to Watch and Enjoy a Polo Match

1. Two teams of four players on horseback try to score goals in the opposing team’s goal. Each time a team scores they switch ends on the field.

2. Dimensions of a polo field: Approximately 250 meters x 135 meters.

3. Handicap is a skill valuation. In case of a difference, the team with the lower handicap starts the match with an advantage.

4. Chuckers are 7-minute periods. The number of chuckers per match depends on the tournament.

5. The referees also ride horses. They are usually two referees wearing different shirts from the teams.

6. It is a foul to create dangerous situations for other players, even without causing actual harm.

7. The main platform to watch polo online is Pololine.tv

8. Polo matches can be watched at polo clubs, mostly on weekends in spring and summer.

9. When attending a polo match, it is recommended to wear comfortable yet elegant clothing.

10. Nowadays, there are numerous polo schools near major cities worldwide.

1. How many players are there in a polo team? What are their positions?

There are four players in a polo team in the traditional style of the sport, which is on grass. Each team consists of two forwards (number 1 and 2), a midfielder (number 3), and a defender (number 4).

How does the game develop?

The objective is to score goals in the opposing team’s goal.

To start a match, all players gather on one side of the referee. The teams will stand on opposite sides, facing each other, with a minimal separation between them. The referee will then make a throw-in, throwing the ball into play. Once the ball is in play, the players will spread out across the field to cover their respective areas and mark their assigned opponents.

Players will also engage in lateral shoulder-to-shoulder contact to gain a better position than their opponents and execute different swings with the mallet to gain ground, make passes, and, of course, score goals.

In the case of a goal, all players return to the center of the field for another throw-in. Importantly, after each goal, the teams switch sides, meaning the team that just scored a goal will now try to score in the other goal, and vice versa.

Russian Dolls Polo Team Aquarella. Players of a polo team are numbered 1 to 4.

 

2. What are the dimensions of a polo field?

The dimensions of a polo field are between 230 and 275 meters in length and between 130 and 146 meters in width. The goals, located in the middle of the end boards, have an opening between wickerwork measuring 7.3 meters. There is no upper limit, and as long as the ball passes between the wickets or its projection extends infinitely, it counts as a goal.

The wickets are so named because the goalposts, traditionally and still mostly today, are made of this material due to its lightness and ease of breakage, thus reducing the risk in case of impact by a horse.

Air view of the Palermo Argentine Polo Field in Buenos Aires City. The polo grounds have maximum rules book measures.

 

3. What is a polo handicap and how is it applied in a match?

A polo handicap is a subjective valuation of each player’s skill. The scale ranges from -2 for a beginner to 10 reserved for the best players in the world.

The sum of the players’ handicaps determines the team’s handicap. In handicap tournaments, the “weaker” team receives an advantage on the scoreboard before the start of the match, equivalent to the difference in handicap between the participating teams divided by 6 and multiplied by the number of chuckers in the match.

If you wish to go watch polo with a guide or someone who can explain everything as it happens you can use our Whatsapp button, or email us at info@laamistadpolo.com

Historic 80 goals match at Palermo, Argentina. The sum of handicap of the players equates to the total handicap of each team.

 

4. What is a polo chucker? What is an extra chucker?

Chukkers is the name given to the periods of 7 minutes in which polo matches are divided. They can also be written as “chuckers,” “chukka,” and various other variations. This curious word comes from the Hindi word “chakra,” which means circular, similar to the word “round” in English. Each chukker lasts for 7 minutes.

In Argentina, most tournaments are played with 6 chukkers, although the tournament committee can propose a greater or lesser number depending on the desired level of competition. In the most famous tournaments like Tortugas, Hurlingham, and Palermo, matches are played with 8 chukkers, while amateur tournaments sometimes have 4 chukkers, and children’s matches can have 3, 2, or even just one chukker per game.

In most other countries, the highest competitive level is played with 6 chukkers, while lower and intermediate levels are played with 4 chukkers. In the past, the number of chuckers determined how long a player was expected to stay in the game with the same horse, and the mounted player would switch to a fresh horse during the inter-chukker breaks that lasted 3 minutes. Nowadays, although this practice is sometimes used, it has become a norm to ring a bell halfway through the chukker to give players the opportunity to change their horses for ones that are more rested. This approach aims to preserve the docility and, consequently, the control of these approximately 450 kg quadrupeds.

An important detail to consider is that in case of a tie, matches are decided by adding extra chuckers, and the team that scores the first goal wins the game (golden goal). In the rare case of no goals being scored in the extra chukker, a second extra chukker may be added, or penalty shootouts may be used.

Timers for polo are already adapted to 7 minutes.

5. Who are those two men from the third team?

After watching a match for a few minutes, it’s easy to determine that the four riders wearing jerseys of the same color belong to the same team. And the other four players wearing jerseys of a different color from the first but identical among themselves, coincidentally, are the players of the opposing team. But who are the two players from the third team?

Well, given the vastness of the playing field and the speed of the sport, the most suitable way for the referees to move around and closely follow the details of the match is on horseback. They will wear a third color or a combination of colors that doesn’t confuse them with the competing teams.

The referees always carry a whistle to stop the game and signal the timekeeper to pause the clock, a ball lifter to prevent the dead ball from being left forgotten on a section of the field and potentially being mistaken for a live ball when the game resumes, and a ball carrier to have spare balls available for a quick and dynamic game resumption.

Referees can be a single person or frequently a pair. In the latter case, there is also a third person off the field who pays close attention to what happens in the game and, in case of disagreement between the first two, provides input.

Nowadays, in events where there are filming teams, the third person is usually positioned with the filming team to review disputed plays or inform the referees, who are following the game on horseback, of any situations that deserve their attention but may have been missed due to their unfavourable location.

Additionally, with the incorporation of technology and portable radio equipment, when there are three judges, decisions are usually made based on the perspectives of all three, giving more weight to their judgments on how to resume the game.

Umpires at the Argentine Polo Open. Photo courtesy of Pololine.

 

6. Why was it a foul, and what happens now? 

One of the most important rules in polo aims to prevent collisions between players and their horses. If there is little distance between players or a risk of collision, the player who is most aligned with the trajectory of the ball has the right of way to play the ball from the right side. No other player can cross their path in a way that poses a risk of collision or fall to the player who is in the best position regarding the ball’s trajectory.

In order to understand why a referee decided to blow the whistle and stop the game, we need to consider the following: Polo, by its very nature, is a sport played on 450kg animals where participants swing 1.25-meter long mallets at speeds ranging from 30 to even 60km/h, impacting a solid ball measuring about 8 centimeters diameter and weighing around 125 grams. When the ball travels at speeds exceeding 100 km/h, it becomes a powerful projectile. All of these make the sport somewhat risky. Therefore, the rules of polo have been carefully crafted to minimize the danger in this discipline.

Now, can the ball be taken away from that player? How can one defend and counterattack? The player who is on the right side of the player with the right of way can also play the ball on the left side of their horse, following the trajectory of the ball without crossing paths. This way, they would not obstruct the player in the best position or impede their progress, thus avoiding any risk.

What if the opponent is on the left side of the player in the best position? In that case, the situation becomes a bit more complex. To regain possession of the ball, the player without the right of way must gain a better position by “bumping” their horse against the opponent’s horse, maintaining the same speed and without an angle of collision that could cause anyone to fall or get injured.

Another rule to consider is that in polo, it is allowed to block the opponent’s mallet, but one must be on the same side of the opponent’s horse and always below shoulder height. Failure to comply with this rule results in penalties for the offender and a penalty shot for the opposing team.

The dangerous crossing foul is the most common in polo.

 

7. How can I watch polo online?

You can watch polo online through various digital channels, the main one being Pololine.tv which provides extensive coverage of the global polo circuit. Other mayor polo broadcasters are ESPN as well as Star+ (only in Argentina), which nowadays broadcasts the Triple Crown matches in Argentina.

Globalpolo.tv streamed the matches of the US Open 2023, while in England Polocam.tv is the primary broadcaster of the Queen’s Cup and Pololine.tv for the British Open Gold Cup. There are also numerous YouTube channels where you can watch memorable polo matches, and various polo programs are often featured on national channels in Argentina and ESPN.

Pololine.tv is one of the plataforms which offers the widest cover polo tournaments globally.

 

8. Where can I watch live polo matches?

If your desire is to attend a polo match, then your best option will always be to find out where your nearest polo club is located and check when the next tournament will be taking place. If you want to watch top-level polo, here are your best options:

Argentina: The highest level of polo is played here, and it takes place almost year-round. The most important tournaments in the world usually occur between October and the first days of December in Pilar, Hurlingham, and the City of Buenos Aires. There are also considerable competitions throughout the year with frequent matches at the Palermo fields in Buenos Aires, as well as at the fields owned by the Argentine Polo Association in Pilar or in metropolitan area clubs.

United States: Polo is played year-round here. While the best players concentrate in the state of Florida between January and April, for the rest of the year, many of them are spread across at least 40 states. The US Open is played at the International Polo Club in Wellington, FL, in March/April, and it is the most important tournament of the year in the US.

England: British polo season runs from April to September, and the best players compete in tournaments between May and July. The most important ones include the QueenP’s Cup at Guards Polo Club in Windsor, Berkshire, and the Gold Cup or British Open at Cowdray Polo Club in West Sussex.

Europe: The season also takes place in spring/summer, and the most important tournaments include the Open de Paris in France and the Silver and Gold Cups played at the Santa Maria Polo Club in Sotogrande, Spain. There are also significant tournaments in Italy at the Vila Sesta Polo Club.

South Africa: There is also an excellent level of polo here, with Kurland Estate in Plettenberg Bay being the main gathering place for the best local players during the months of December to February.

Other countries: Polo is also played in New Zealand and Australia, as well as in Dubai, India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt, Nigeria, and many other destinations around the world.

Home For… La Amistad Polo Team, Maharani Cup, Nuestra Tierra Polo Club, Open Door, Argentina.

 

9. What should I wear to a polo game?

Smart jeans, an elegant blouse or shirt and comfortable smart shoes are always a good option to wear to watch a polo game.

While in current times many dress code norms have been relaxed, it is always recommended to dress appropriately for the event in order to be comfortable, well-received, and well-regarded. This norm is no exception in polo, which is why we offer you a series of tips on how to dress when attending a polo match, especially if you are new to the sport.

Neatness and a low profile will always be the best strategy. The audience that watches and appreciates polo tends to be educated and elegant. Also, when watching a polo match, you will always be in outdoor spaces exposed to the weather. Our best recommendation is to wear comfortable yet neat clothing, avoiding flashy brand displays or following the latest fashion trends.

Also, although everyone may have their preferences, polo spectators tend to be very respectful regarding other people’s team allegiances, and there are usually no major rivalries off the field. For this reason, it is not advisable to wear team jerseys (exceptions are often made for children), as you would be excluding yourself from the social gathering that can take place after each match.

Finally, during the finals of the tournaments, regular attendees, especially women, often make a greater effort to be well-presented, as the post-match social gathering tends to be of greater duration and importance.

“You are never badly presented when you are at your best.” Pablo Rojas.

 

10. How can I start playing polo?

When it comes to wanting to practice the sport, the best way to do it is under the guidance and supervision of a professional. Nowadays, there are numerous entry points for this, such as polo schools and their instructors. It is crucial, when resorting to any of these institutions or professionals, to ensure that they are certified by their respective polo associations or the country in which they are located. If that’s the case, it should also be ensured that they have calm horses and the appropriate equipment to carry out activities in a safe environment.

The most important aspect when participating in horse-related activities is to always be aware of our own safety, as well as the safety of the people and animals we interact with or that surround us.

Polo is an exciting sport that can quickly become a lifestyle, connecting you with nature and the outdoors. It lifts you above the daily concerns and transports you to a state of fulfilment akin to paradise. “Heaven on Earth is found on the back of a horse.”

In order to find out more you can visit our School and Hacks section, use our Whatsapp button, or email us at info@laamistadpolo.com

Juan Quintana is a polo instructor certified both in Argentina and the UK.

Juan Quintana

I've been around polo and ridden horses all my life. I've played polo since I was 15. Nowadays, teaching polo and providing horse transport are my main focus. I'm based in Argentina but I've travelled to the UK and the US for their polo seasons. Any questions about polo let me know!

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