The animals used in polo are called ponies, but they are usually not really ponies at all. By definition, a pony is a horse standing 14.2 hands or below at the withers. (A hand is four inches, so this means 58 inches or below.) Most true ponies belong to specific pony breeds, although there are many individual horses from larger breeds that could qualify as ponies because of their height. In America, most polo ponies Thoroughbreds, and some began their careers as racehorses. Others were bred specifically for polo, and still others were
imported from Argentina, where polo-pony breeding and training is a big industry. Aiken has a growing reputation as a top place to breed, train and bring along young horses. Polo ponies generally stand between 15 and 16 hands. They are trained to stop and turn quickly, to boldly face oncoming horses, to tolerate fast-moving mallets and balls, to ride-off, bump, and run like the wind when asked. Players say the horse makes up 60, 70 or even 80 percent of a player’s worth. An exceptional string of horses can make the difference between a good and a great player. Conversely, a player mounted on a slow, sluggish, unwilling or unmanageable horse can be quite useless to his team. After all, you can’t hit the ball if you can’t get to it. Since each game is four or six chukkers long and a horse may play in one or possibly two chukkers, every player must have a minimum of two or three horses to play a full game. Most have more: one horse per chukker is a good rule of thumb, and many players have one or two extras as well, or even a whole second string. Not surprisingly, building, conditioning and maintaining a good string is one of the primary preoccupations of players at every level. Everyone wants faster, handier, quicker, easier ponies. Top horses are hard to come by, and it is rare for a player to have an entire string of great horses all at the same time.
Polo was once the sport of kings, played only by the wealthy leisure classes. Today, although playing certainly requires a significant investment of time and money, it is played by men and women from many different walks of life, from England’s Prince Harry to the local veterinarian, real estate agent, blacksmith or fence builder. Polo can be played on many different levels and by players of all ages and abilities. Polo professionals and serious amateurs may play polo full time and year-round. More casual players might play on the weekends, or on occasional evenings after work. Whatever their level of commitment, all polo players share in the special world of polo; a world with its own language, its own worries and its own set of celebrities. They are united by a shared passion for horses, a shared commitment to the sport, and a shared connection to the traditions of the past. Pam Gleason
A player may use his horse to “ride off ” his opponent so as to push the opponent away from the ball or otherwise spoil his shot. Polo is a contact sport, and horses and players often bump each other quite hard in the heat of the action. However, it is a foul to bump with undue force, or to do anything that endangers the other player or his mount. If any player infringes on the rules, the umpires blow their whistles for a foul. The team fouled then gets a penalty shot or a free hit. Depending on the severity of the foul and where it occurs, the ball may be hit from the point of the infraction or moved down the field closer to the fouling team’s goal. If the two mounted umpires disagree on whether or not a foul occurred, they go consult the “third man” who acts as the referee. Filming and instant replays are innovations that arrived at some clubs recently. Important games are filmed with drones, and each team has the opportunity to challenge a limited number of foul calls each half. In this case, a special instant replay referee reviews the game tape and makes the final call. In most cases, however, the third man’s opinion is the ultimate word. Polo being a “gentleman’s game,” it is a foul to appeal a foul. It is also a foul to argue with the umpires. Umpires may call a technical foul on players exhibiting unsportsmanlike behavior. They do this by pulling a red handkerchief from their back pockets. If a player incurs too many technicals in a game, he is asked to leave the field and his team may have to continue playing three to a side.
Aiken Polo Club 2015