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Polo Basics
Polo Glossary


Polo Field: The playing field can be set up with or without sideboards. Officially a boarded polofield measures 140 x 275 meters long and an unboarded field measures 180 x 275 meters long. But in reality polofields in The Netherlands are around 225 x 115 meters.
The goals are placed on the end lines midway between the side lines. The posts are placed twenty-four feet apart, are ten feet high, and are made of materials light enough so that they will break in case of a collision.

Polo Equipment: The ball is made of light wood, usually willow, with no covering but white paint. It is 3 1/ 4 inches in diameter and weighs 5 1/2 ounces. The polostick or mallets are made of bamboo canes, or poly resins, which provide flexibility, and the mallet heads of willow or maple. The mallets come in lengths of 49 to 53 inches and selection is made according to the height of the pony being played. The ball is struck with the side of the mallet, not with the end. All players must a wear protective helmet with a chin strap and preferably a faceguard. Knees are protected with leather knee guards. The ponies are provided with protective bandages or wraps on all four legs. Tails are braided, taped or tied to minimize interference in making the various shots. Several mounts are required for each player in a game, each horse usually being played only one period.

Polo Team: Four players constitute a poloteam. The Number 1 and Number 2 players are primarily offensive players and advance the ball to the goal. Number 3 is a roving player, and usually the best player on the team. It is his responsibility to be prepared to pass the ball forward, attack the goal himself, or drop back to aid in the defense. The Number 4 or "Back" as he is referred to, is basically responsible for defense, altthough he may turn a play into an attacking situation much the same as Number 3.

Polo Pony: The Polo Pony is an object of admiration. He is selected for his ability to carry weight at great speed, and for his endurance. Many Thoroughbreds or three-fourth Thoroughbreds are used. A pony's training must make him agile and responsive to every command and impulse of the rider. He becomes so familiar with the various shots and maneuvers that he can often anticipate his rider's wishes. Action of horse and rider alike must be instantaneous to be effective. Thus the pony becomes a player in the game.

Officials: Two mounted umpires officiate on the field and follow the players. If a foul is committed a whistle is blown by either umpire. This stops the game. Both umpires must agree on the penalty to be assessed. Should they disagree, the referee, or third man, located on the sidelines decides. A flagman, stationed behind each goal, assists the umpires by indicating if the ball passed between the goal posts or outside them.

Chukker: Also called a period. There are four  chukkers in a polo game, each lasting 7 minutes plus up to 30 seconds in overtime. If, during the 30 seconds, the ball hits the sideboards or goes out of bounds, or if the empire blows his whistle, the chukker is over. There is no overtime at the end of the sixth chukker unless the score is tied, at which time a seventh period of "sudden death" will be played. A player returns to each chukker on a different pony, although he may rest a pony for a chukker or two and play the same pony again.

Start: The four players of each team line up in the middle of the field, facing the side boards. The umpire rides toward them, throws the ball between them, and the game play begins. Play is resumed in the same way after each goal, with teams changing goals.

Each player is rated on a scale of minus 2 to 10, by regional and national handicap committees. A player's handicap is based on his net worth to his /her team with factors considered such as horsemanship, team play, hitting skills, anticipation and overall understanding of the game and it's rules. The rating given to players is termed in "Goals". For example, if 4 three goal players formed a team, it would be a 12 goal rated team. If the opposing team handicap totalled 10 goals, there would be a one goal advantage (difference in goals divided by 2) to the 10 goal team at the start of the game. The term 'Goals' is not a player's rating and is not be be confused with how many times he/she will score in a match, it is just a matter of a rating system

Play: The players strike the ball with the side of the mallet, attempting to drive it toward the opponents' goal and through the goal posts.

Fouls and Penalties: When a foul has been committed, penalty shots are awarded by the umpires to the team which has been fouled. The most important rules in polo are those concerning the safety of men and horses. Chief of these are the crossing and riding-off rules. No player may cross the line of another in going for the ball, and the last man to strike the ball has the "right-of-way". Others may legitimately "ride him off", however. This means impinging, pony to pony, on a converging course in the manner of a shoulder charge in football.

Goal: Any time a ball crosses the line between the goal posts, it is considered a goal regardless of whether a horse or a mallet causes the ball to go through. In order to equalize wind and turf conditions, the teams change sides after every goal scored.

Throw-In: A chukker begins and many plays resume with the umpire bowling the ball between the two ready teams. Also when a ball crosses the sideline or goes over the sideboards, it is considered out of bounds and the umpire throws in another ball between the two teams at that point. No time out is allowed for an out-of-bounds ball.

Positions: Each of the four players plays a distinctly different position. Since polo is such a fluid game, the players may momentarily change positions, but will try and return to their initial assignment. No 1 is the most forward offensive player. Usually selected for his accurate shooting at the goal. No 2 is also offensive, but plays behind No 1, attempting to pass the ball up to him. Usually chosen for his quickness and dexterity. No 3 is the pivot player bwetween offense and defense. He is the play maker and usually the longest hitter on the team. His duty is to pass the ball to his forwards. No 4, or the back, is the most defensive player. His duty is to turn the ball back upfield to his teammates. He is usually selected for his ability to hit backhanders and ride-off his opponents.

Nearside: The lefthand side of a horse.

Offside: The righthand side of a horse.

A ball which is hit under the horse's neck from either side.

Bump or Ride-Off: This occurs when two riders make contact and attempt to push each other off the line of the ball so as to prevent the other from striking the ball. The horses are the ones intended to do the pushing, although a player may use his body as well, but not his elbows. The angle of the bump must be slight so as not to be dangerous to the rider or horse.

Tail Shot: Hitting the ball behind and across the horse's rump.

Hook: A player may spoil another's shot by putting his mallet in the way of the striking player's mallet. A cross hook occurs when the player reaches over his opponent's mount in an attempt to hook; this is considered a foul.

Time Out:
An umpire calls time out when a foul is committed, an accident occurs, or at his own dircretion. A player may only call time out if he has broken tack or is injured. No time out is allowed for changing horses or replacing a broken mallet, although a player may do so at any time.

Sideboards: A nine to eleven inch board along the side-lines only. Sideboards are optional.