A polo team has four players, each one having a handicap from 0 up to 10 goals.
A player´s handicap is rated depending on the ability to ride the horse, the skill to play a fluid game and the sense towards the game.
The team handicap is the combined handicaps of the four players.
In handicap polo tournaments, if both teams have a different handicap, the team having less goals should start the game; the difference between its handicap and the handicap of the opposing team is added to the scoreboard. For instance, a team having a total of 26 goals will grant 2 goals to a team of 24.
Polo is played on a field of 300 yards by 160 yards (the approximate area of 9 football fields), with wicker goal posts centred at each end of the field.
The Polo Pony
There used to be a height restriction which is why they are still called ponies, however, the average height of horses is between 155 and 165 cm. Polo ponies are now bred throughout the world although many still prefer the ones coming from Argentina, where the Criollo breed's qualities excel for speed, stamina, and agility. A good polo pony must be able to stop and turn 'on a sixpence''. Most players consider their success is greatly due to the ability of their ponies.
Start of the Game
At the beginning of the game the two teams shall line up in the middle of the ground, each team being on its own side of the halfway line and behind the centre line.
The umpire shall bowl the ball underhand and hard between the opposing ranks of players.
- Each team must try to score goals using the polo stick. There are 4 or 6 periods of game named “chukkers”.
- Each chukker is 7 minutes long. There are intervals of 3 minutes between chukkers in which horses are changed.
- There are 4 players per team, being number 1 and 2 offense-orientated, number 3 in the midfield, and number 4 a defensive player. Players are not allowed to handle the polo stick with the left hand.
- The primary concept to which all rules are dedicated is the safety of the players and of the horses. The main objective of the referee is to control that the right of way and the line of the ball are respected.
- The line of the ball is an imaginary line that is produced each time the ball is hit. The line of the ball is the line of its course. The last player to hit the ball has the right of way. No player shall enter or cross this right of way except at such distance that not the slightest risk of collision or danger to any player is involved.
- A player may hook an opponent’s stick if he is on the same side of the opponent’s pony and only if all of the opponent’s sticks are below the opponent’s shoulder level.
- No player may hit the ball into or amongst the legs of an opponent´s pony.
- No player may push with the elbow.
- Riding an opponent across or into the right of way is one of the most dangerous and serious fouls.
- A player may not intentionally touch another player, his stick or his horse. Players shall play with the stick in the right hand.
- Left-handed players usually give less accurate shots, but are better when guiding the horse.
- Each pony can play a maximum of two chukkers per match.
After a goal is scored, the polo teams change direction. The flagmen placed behind the goal line wave the flag overhead to signal a goal has been scored. When the ball is hit across the back line, the flag is waved horizontally.
A free hit towards goal is set from distance by the umpire following a foul. Penalties are as follows:
Penalty No. 1: Automatic goal
Penalty No. 2: 30 yards hit to an open goal
Penalty No. 3: 40 yards hit to an open goal
Penalty No. 4: 60 yards hit to a defended goal
Penalty No. 5: A hit from the spot where the foul was committed
Penalty No. 5B: A hit from the centre of the ground
- The Forehand: It is the natural hit. The player can hit from the right or the left side.
- The Backshot: Normally called "Back o Backhander". This hit can be done from the right or the left side.
- Neck shot: It is a shot made under the pony´s neck.