A polo player has to go to their limits in every match: physical and mental fitness are a prerequisite in order to be able to succeed at this incredibly energy-charged and fast sport. But in order to win as a polo team, cohesion and trust in the group is also required. Only those who are able to unite as a team are even able to get anywhere near the goal on the playing field, which is five times the size of a football pitch. Add to this the challenging rules of this sport, which only seem simple at first glance: two teams of four riders compete against one another on horseback and try to score the most goals.
Primarily in Argentina, and in neighbouring countries Brazil and Chile, polo is currently a real sports trend. It is not just the particularly fast and agile horses, bred specifically for the sport, that came from this region, but also the best players. This is noticeable at the world championships that have been taking place for many years: it is mainly the national teams of these three countries that compete for the title.
To give you an idea as a polo novice, we have put together the most important rules for you.
The golden rule: the right of way
The most important polo rule is the right of way: the player in the direct flight path of the ball has this – i.e. when they are stood or riding their horse in the so-called "line of ball". No other player is allowed to cross this line and take the risk of a collision with the rider who has the right of way. With the right tactics and the corresponding use of the horse's energy and that of your own body, it is still possible to gain possession of the ball.
Push and hooking
In order to get the ball from your opponent, a parallel "push" is allowed. Here you try to push aside the other player with your own horse or your own body out of their line and therefore gain possession of the ball. However, the use of elbows is not permitted. Another permitted move is called "hooking", in which you use your own mallet to hook into that of the opposing player, preventing them from hitting the ball.
Player handicaps are also interesting: polo players are allocated handicaps from -2 to +10 goals, depending on their skill, although the best score of +10 goals is only held by a handful of players worldwide. The handicaps of all players in each team are added up and tournaments are played in three classes: Low, Medium or High Goal. Here, the following rule is also unique: if two teams play against one another that, due to their handicaps, are actually in different classes, the advantage is balanced out with a corresponding goal advantage.
There are regional differences when it comes to playing time. Whilst in Europe there are generally four time periods, so-called "chukkas", each last for 7.5 minutes and one last 7-minute round, in North and South America there are generally between seven and nine periods.
Alternating direction of play
This rule can be confusing to novices: the direction of play alternates after each goal. On the one hand, this counterbalances any advantages or disadvantages due to low sun and, on the other, the grass is relatively evenly used.
The field is 300 by 200 yards (276 by 170 metres) and, with a good 50,000 square metres, is the largest playing field in existence. By comparison, a football pitch has a maximum of "only" 10,800 square metres. However, some organisers are moving towards using smaller fields in order to make it easier for spectators to follow the game. Alongside classic polo played on grass, this sport can also be played on sand or snow.
On the field, the two teams, each with four riders, try to get the ball into the opponent's goal and, in doing so, go to the physical limits of their bodies and that of their horses. Due to these exertions each polo player should have numerous horses – ideally at least four – to call their own, as one horse is never used in two successive periods of play.
Another cause of surprise to novices is the fact that polo horses are special, particularly energetic breeds. Today's polo horses are descendants of ponies from the mountainous Himalayas region, which have been interbred with English, American, Arab and South American full-sized horses. This has ensured that today's polo horses unite several properties that are particularly important to the sport: they are resilient, quick, agile and brave.