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Polo Field Notes: Polo 101

Stephen Brown

Now is the best time to head to the International Polo Club Palm Beach and watch a live-action polo match. For those new to the game, here's what to look for to get a better understanding of the sport.

 

Know the Lingo

A quick reference on popular polo terms:

Chukker: This is a period of play, much like periods in hockey. There are six chukkers per match, each lasting seven minutes and 30 seconds, which gives the game a total of 45 minutes of play. A warning horn is sounded at the seven-minute mark, followed by an additional horn 30 seconds later notifying the end of the chukker.

Hook: This is a defensive play when a player catches the opponent’s mallet in swing below the level of the pony’s back, disengaging him from the ball.

Bump: When a defensive player rides into another to disrupt a shot or pass.

Ride Off: When two players ride into one another to push the other off the line of the ball.

Valiente - CV Whitney Cup - International Polo Club - Terms, rules and object of polo

Sapo Caset of Valeinte (white with blue helmet) attempts to hook Pablo MacDonough of Orchard Hill in the finals of the CV Whitney Cup.

Photo by Alex Pacheco

 

Tips for Following the Match

The field is rather large, and horses run at full-tilt to make a play, so a little forward-thinking helps when following the action. Polo players can only use their right hand when handling the mallet. This is mainly done as a safety precaution. As a result, the game has a natural clockwise fluidity—rarely does it break from this movement, and when it does, it usually happens on breakaways. So, if you having trouble following a clump of horses on the far end of the field, fear not—they will eventually make it your way.

 

Counter to most sports, after a point is scored, the goal direction is switched. The reason behind the switch allows for more parity on the field, with no team claiming an advantage or disadvantage because of wind, sun or the field.

 

Polo is a fast-paced game, with breakaways, long passes and plenty of galloping thrown in the mix. It is also pretty continuous. However, there are penalties that can and will slow or stop play, like the obstruction foul called Crossing the Line. The “line of the ball" is the path the ball travels as it is struck. This imaginary line is the right of way for the last player to strike the ball and a no-go zone for opponents. When it is broken, the player will be awarded a free hit on either a defended or undefended goal from various distances, depending on the severity of the infraction. In some cases, players can even be disqualified and games can be forfeited.

 

Whom to watch? Polo is a very verbal game, as captains constantly communicate with the team to set up plays, prepare defensive stances and make for a more fluid rate of play. Though you might not be able to understand what they are saying from a distance, pay attention to the most talkative player on the pitch—all play runs through him. He will be a good point of reference if things get jumbled together or if you are getting lost in the action.

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