I felt like writing about something completely different today – just for a change, and so I’ve turned to a sport I know well – Polo… the Sport of Kings, and although rather elitist it can definitely hold it’s own in the catagory of extreme sport. Along with some other extreme sports, you have to take out extra insurance to play Polo – which gives you an indication of how dangerous it can be…
Elitist I say? Well, only really because of the cost of the horses, the stabling, the grooms, transport, etc – none of this comes cheap as you can imagine, not in the first world anyway – there was a time in Zimbabwe when we could buy a thoroughbred racehorse off the track for US$400! That has of course gone up now but horses out there, good horses, are considerably cheaper than here, which opens the game up to more people.
Briefly, as you might well know, polo is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. The traditional grass field is 300 yards long and 200 yards wide, though 160 yards wide if the field is using side boards – the approximate size of 9 American Football fields. Arena polo is played on much smaller fields. The teams consist of 4 a side and riders have a string of ‘ponies’ – 2-3 for low-goal polo, but many more for high goal and they score by driving a small white wooden ball through the opposing team’s goal posts using a long-handled mallet.
Polo is thought to have been invented by the Persians some time between the 6th century BC and the 1st century AD, though the modern game of polo, comes from Manipur, a remote north-eastern mountain state in India where the game was known as either ‘Sagol Kangjei’, ‘Kanjai-bazee’, or ‘Pulu’ – from which the modern name has derived – Polo. It became the quintessential game of the British Raj.
Polo is fast, furious, quick-witted and sure-footed. Your horse is an integral part of the game. The polo pony is selected carefully for quick bursts of speed, stamina, agility and manoeuverability. Temperament is critical; the horse must remain responsive under pressure and not become excited or difficult to control. They are trained to be handled with one hand on the reins, and to be responsive to the rider’s leg and weight cues for moving forward, turning and stopping. A well trained horse will carry his rider smoothly and swiftly to the ball and can account for 60 to 75 percent of the player’s skill and net worth to his team.
It is essential to be fit when you embark on a polo season. It is an exhausting, challenging, exciting game. You have an, approximately, 1,000lb polo pony under you to control and a very fast moving game to read.
It has to be one of the most satisfying team sports in the world!
International polo tournaments are held in some of the most glamourous spots in the world, amongst them St. Tropez in the sun and St. Moritz in the snow. In the 2,600 years or so since polo has been played , or a version of the game anyway, it had never been played in the snow… until now.
Polo is guaranteed to be full of thrills and spills – especially on ice, where, although they have specially designed horseshoes to protect and insulate the hoof and give as good a grip on the ice as possible, it is still slippery underfoot – have a look at this video from bilderundtoene of the 2007 Polo World Cup on snow at St. Moritz.
… as compared to polo on a taditional grass field, thanks to newcastlewebsites for the video:
In India they have added an extra twist to the game of polo – elephant polo, and here’s a quick excerpt of a chukka posted by etivyas to amuse you.
Here’s a little elephant that knows exactly what the game is all about, she’s worth her weight in gold! Thanks to cocqq for posting this video.
The modern sport has had difficulty grappling with the traditional, social and economic exclusivity associated with a game that is inevitably expensive when played at a serious level. Many polo athletes genuinely desire to broaden public participation in the sport, both as an end in itself and to increase the standard of play.
The popularity of polo has grown steadily since the 1980s, and its future appears to have been greatly strengthened by its return as a ‘varsity sport at universities across the world.
Polo is now played in 77 countries, though professionally in only a few, namely Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, India, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, and the USA. Needless to say, Argentina dominates the professional sport and is today the source of most of the world’s 10-goal players – 10-goal is as high as you can go.