A Beginners Guide to the English Polo Season
With the British Polo season already upon us, and plenty of big names to look out for, this is the summer to get involved with the most prestigious sport in the world, whether it’s learning to play or watching with anticipation.
Polo is commonly thought of in this country as a British and American hobby and sport. However, Polo originated in Central Asia, most likely in Persia, roughly between the 6th century BC and the 1st century AD. Notable sultans such as Saladin and Baybars were known to play it and encourage it in their court, as it was valuable training for cavalry. As Polo spread across the globe it became known as the Game of Kings. By the Middle Ages the game was played from Turkey right across to Japan.
The first Polo club, Calcutta Polo Club, was established in 1862 by two British soldiers while in service. When they returned home they introduced the game to their peers. The British spread Polo to the Americas and throughout Europe during the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The game’s current governing body in the United Kingdom is the Hurlingham Polo Association, which drew up the first set of formal British rules in 1874.
Polo was first played in the United States in May 1876 at Dickel’s Riding Academy at 39th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City – far from the prominent country clubs we see in America today. Due to the success of the match that same day the Westchester Polo Club was founded, and weeks later at Jerome Park Racetrack in Westchester County the first American outdoor polo match took place.
The Rules and Format
So that’s the history covered, Let’s have a look at the game itself. A Polo ground is 300 yards long by 200 yards wide, roughly the equivalent of 9 Football pitches.
Two teams of four battle it out to score goals – which are located at opposite ends of the field. The team with the most goals at the end, wins!
Each player has a handicap rating. The rating starts at – 2 (a beginner) and goes up to 10 (the best players – very few players in the world hold this rating). Before the match starts the player handicaps of each team are added up. If there is a weaker team, they are awarded goals at the start.
A match is broken down into periods of play called chukkas, each chukka is 7 ½ minutes long. There are 4 chukkas in a match and the whole game usually lasts about hour. The match is overseen by two umpires mounted on horseback and a referee on the side-line.
The match starts with the two teams facing each other in the centre of the ground. One of the mounted umpires then initiates a ‘throw in’ by throwing the ball along the ground between the teams to start the chukka.
After every goal the teams swap ends. After every goal the players meet back at the centre of the ground for a throw in.
A player will change their Horse after each chukka; a player will therefore ride 4 or more Horses in a match.
Tournaments and Teams
The most important Polo tournaments are Abierto de Tortugas, Abierto de Hurlingham and Abierto Argentino de Polo, and all of them in Argentina. As you can imagine the Argentine Polo team is a formidable force, with the largest number of 10 handicap players in the world. However, Polo correspondent for the Telegraph, Gareth A Davies, has picked Dubai this year as his ‘team to watch’, because of their unmissable ambition and drive.
But what about the English team? New England Captain James Beim has already shown his worth during last year’s season, and has been set the task of leading two national sides this year. Beim will be playing in the number three position as the tatical leader alongside Richard Le Poer, Max Charlton and James Harper.
On the 5th of June the England team will be playing over three days at Hurlingham Park in Fulham, the ‘spiritual home’ of Polo. It will be the first time in over 70 years that England will have played at Hurlingham Park. The weekend will also include a Ladies Day and children’s activities, so it’s a great opportunity to entertain the whole family.
Another fixture for your diary is British Polo Day, on the 20th of June. The Black Bears Polo Club in Henley-on-Thames will be offering two Polo matches, featuring Eton and Commonwealth teams, lunch and afternoon tea.
One not to miss is Polo on the Beach at Watergate Bay from the 26th to he 28th of June, where Team Cornwall will face Rest of the World in an age-old battle. If you find Polo on the Beach exciting then the British Beach Polo Championships will be an unbelievable day out, as international polo and beach volleyball grace the sand. There will be many more attractions and events at this glamorous do, from the 10th to 11th of July.
Tips for watching a Polo Match
Safety – If you are watching from the side of the ground be sure to keep a safe distance from the side line.
Pay attention at all times, the game moves very quickly and sometimes a Polo ball will be hit accidently in the direction of spectators.
The best place to watch – Watching the match at ground level makes the game look 2 dimensional. If you can find a raised vantage point this will give you a much better view of the game.
Get involved – At half time you may be asked to tread in. This involves walking onto the Polo ground and replacing grass divots that have been ripped from the ground by the horse hooves.
For more Information: The Hurlingham Polo Association