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Contents Introduction


About the Sport




Mallet and Grip


The Polo Horse


Hitting Technique


The Swing from Horseback


The Polo Shots


Maneuvers, Penalties


Final Tips






Team Line-Up


Special Thanks


Sponsors and Supporters


Sources and References





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Introduction The Philosophy of the Book Polo professionals have talent – and an excellent technique! This book was written for polo players and people interested in polo who are eager to either learn a correct polo swing or to improve their own swing. Supported by this book, advanced learners will review their technique of swinging and detect their own impairments. You will not only learn to play polo by training and practicing but also by closely observing experienced and professional players and copying their methods. In this book you will be invited to copy Santiago Schweitzer’s approach. This is introduced in words and pictures after a general introduction dealing with facts and the basics. Santiago Schweitzer is a lawyer and an Argentinean professional polo player. He has been playing polo since he was eleven years old and played off a handicap of +3 at the age of seventeen. He currently carries a +6 handicap. Alongside taking part in tournaments, Santiago spends time breeding and training polo ponies as well as training and coaching polo players. He is manager of the polo academy “Polo Match”, which is directly situated in the neighborhood of the polo clubs “La Aguada” and “La Picaza”. He runs the school and the farm together with his brother Fernando Schweitzer (handicap of +4) and his family. Imparting the importance of a precisely and consciously done swing – this is Santiago Schweitzer’s philosophy. His students are to develop a sense for the correct combination of movements for a polo swing. Mistakes should be avoided from the very beginning. For each combination of movements there is a distinctive, comprehensible and logical explanation and technique. Santiago Schweitzer then wishes to provide confidence on horseback. Here, balance is the most relevant part. The intention of this book is to balance rider, horse and hit – separately and as a unit. Here one should also be aware of the principles of the statics and dynamics of the horse. Santiago Schweitzer demonstrates how one uses this knowledge for the hitting of the ball and the development of a fluent and balanced hitting motion.


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The Importance of a Correct Hitting Technique Aspects and Complexity of the Polo Sport – Chess on Horseback Polo is said to be one of the fastest team sports in the world. Besides the ability of riding, capacity of reaction and quick discernment, the game also calls for ball handling, i.e. the correct carrying out of polo swings. It is therefore not surprising that polo is often described as a combination of chess and ice hockey on horseback. In a major tournament, polo is promoted to the audience as being “rougher than rugby, faster than hockey and sexier than golf”. In this sport many factors challenging the mental and physical flexibility of the player play an important role. In the course of the match the player has to communicate with his horse, or rather with the horses of his lot, interact with his team, know the rules exactly and play accordingly. Moreover, not a single polo field can be compared to another concerning the nature of the ground, slope, etc. Professional players factor this effect into their play and read the playing field. You might compare this to “reading the green” in golf. Often, the player’s time span to prepare a hit is reduced to a few seconds; this is of course different from golf. In situations like these, it is all the more important to master the correct hitting technique and carry out the swing precisely. The polo player is supposed to be capable of adopting and carrying out the correct hit automatically. If you deliberately internalize all the logical steps and perform these moves during your training, your body will access its muscle memory (i.e. the motor abilities) and the correct technique can be released in the course of play. A polo swing is a technically demanding chain of movements. Scientific research has shown that a hit in golf requires 124 to 130 muscles. In polo this is far more. Of course, the financial aspect is not to be forgotten, for polo is one of the most exclusive and most expensive sports. Furthermore, this sport demands an immense amount of time spent on tournaments and training. Due to the climate, training on a grass field is limited to the summer months. In order to reduce the expenditure of time and money it is wise to make the most of every opportunity to practice.


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The Most Important Rule of this Book In Heinrich Hasperg’s book “Polo“, first published in 1907, it says: “For a beginner it is absolutely necessary to practice the sport of polo with all of his passion and take his exercises seriously by looking for a good and experienced instructor and then follow his instructions and advice most closely”. Hence, the first and most important rule of this book is: Learning polo calls for intensive training and also for the understanding and adopting of the correct technique.

How to Use this Book Practice can never be replaced by a book. The importance of effective polo training has already been mentioned. It is the same in all kinds of sport: Find a dedicated and experienced trainer who you will incorporate into your play. Often it is not possible to practice constantly with a qualified instructor. This book is intended to help you with your training and shows how the chains of movement of a swing technique can be learned and trained step-by-step using a logical method. Insofar as they are not explained in the context, you will find important and typical terms of polo sport in the glossary at the end of the book.


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About the Sport The main part of this book deals with the technique of a proper polo swing. For the sake of completeness and for a broad survey on this sport, we would like to mention some important facts about polo.

The Definition of Polo and the Polo Swing Polo is an equestrian sport; its object is to score goals or to prevent them against one’s own team. The polo swing is simply defined as hitting a ball with a mallet.

The History Polo is said to be one of the oldest team sports in the world. The roots of this fascinating sport stretch back to old Persia. First described in about 600 BC, this fast game swiftly spread over the whole Asian continent. In colonial times, the British adopted polo in India and in 1871 it was finally brought to England. There it was given a comprehensive system of rules and regulations (the ruling body was formulated in 1889 from the Hurlingham Polo Committee), which presentday European rules are based on. Many people do not know that polo was an Olympic sport on five occasions and was a real crowd-puller at the Olympic Games in Germany in 1936. There are currently attempts to re-establish polo as an Olympic sport. As evidenced by historical records, sports like cricket, golf, hockey and others are said to directly originate from polo or have evolved from its variations. The common theme of these variations is the horse, ball and mallet. All further parameters as to the number of the players, size of the field, tolerable height of the horses, form of the mallet and material of the ball vary from variation to variation.


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The Sport Today – A Short Survey Nowadays, Argentina is considered to be the stronghold of polo. The “Palermo Open”, short for “Campeonato Argentinio Abierto de Polo”, an annual world-class sporting highlight, is held there. This tournament is dominated by Argentinean players, who have the best breeding, training and competition conditions in the world because of the climate and the rural infrastructure of their country. Frequently at the Palermo Open, teams with a team handicap of +40 play against each other and present the “Perfect Match” on the grass of the famous polo arena in Palermo, a district of Buenos Aires. This famous polo arena holds 15,000 spectators and is also called “La Catedral del Polo”.


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The Polo Field The polo field is about 275 meters long and 180 meters wide. The goal posts at the ends of the short sides are 7.3 meters apart, open to the top. When the ball is shot between these posts, a goal has been scored. The field is often contained with boards along its length. There is a safety zone which extends beyond the side lines and the back line so that a player undertaking a fast maneuver can stop safely. Traditionally, polo is played on grass. The choice of the right sort of grass depends on climate and soil conditions. Increasingly, games take place in arenas, on sand or snow and even on frozen lakes. For theses variants the field is often smaller and the rules are matched to the event and the conditions.

The Ball A polo ball is within the limit of about 9 centimeters (3 to 3.5 inches) in diameter and weighs about 130 grams. It is made of plastic or compressed bamboo wood. For arena and snow polo events, air-filled leather or plastic balls with a diameter of normally 10 to 20 centimeters are used.


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Team Composition and Players’ Handicap Similar to golf, every registered player has his individual handicap. In polo the players are rated in most countries on a scale from minus -2 goals (novice/beginner) to +10 goals. Official tournaments and championships have no gender-specific classification. The level of the game is regulated by the players’ individual handicaps. It is thus quite common that a mixture of young and old, amateur and pro, men and women are either part of the same team or compete against each other. A team consists of four players and its handicap is the sum of its players’ handicaps. For reasons of fairness, the team weaker by handicap is awarded an advance in goals at the start of the game. This handicap system enables players of different playing abilities to play together.

The Polo Season In Europe, tournaments on grass fields usually take place from the middle of May to the end of September. The winter polo season starts in January already with tournaments in Austria and Switzerland. The South American polo season runs at the opposite times to the European one. There it begins in September and ends at the end of April. Many professionals therefore train and play on a mini- mum of two continents and use the different seasons of the two hemispheres.

Handicap Limits, Goal Level of Tournaments As a rule, three main tournament classes are distinguished between. Internationally, they are currently classified as follows (guideline values of the Federation of International Polo): Low Goal (team handicap less than +15 goals) Medium Goal (team handicap from +15 to +18 goals) High Goal (team handicap from +19 to +40 goals) The Players’ Positions The responsibilities of each team position are as follows: Players 1 and 2 are both attacking and offensive players. Player number 3 should possess top technical skills and play in midfield, whereas player number 4 is valuable in defense.


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Characteristics of the Polo Player Each player, or rather each position assigned to a player, has certain responsibilities. In performing these, team spirit, team play and fairness should rank first. Furthermore, besides physical eligibility a polo player should also have patience, decisiveness, discipline, self-control and be even-tempered. These particular virtues were described in a book about horse-riding written by the British author J. Moray Brown in 1891.

The Rules Besides these “unwritten” rules, the official Rules and Regulations provide quite a few strict rules which serve primarily for the protection and the safety of the ponies as well as that of the horsemen. Polo is a dynamic and fast-paced sport and it is not uncommon that a horse will run as fast as 60 km per hour in the course of the game. In order to avoid accidents the most important rule is the so-called “right of way”. This can be described as follows: The player following the ball on its exact line has the right of way. He can either be rode off by an opponent travelling parallel only or hooked with a mallet if the ball is between both horses. There is another important rule: For safety reasons the mallet must be held in the right hand only. A distinctive feature of polo is that teams have to change direction after each goal.

Umpires and Referee Each game is supervised by two mounted umpires. The referee, who is not on horseback and is often called the “third man”, sits on the sidelines and makes the final decision if the two umpires are in disagreement. The scorekeepers sit about 15–20 meters behind the goal and decide whether the ball went across the goal line or went out across the back line. Penalties Depending on the type and degree of the foul, free hits at the goal are awarded. Free hits from the center and from 60 yards are defended, while 40- and 30-yard penalties will be hit at an undefended goal. Another free hit is called “from the spot”, which means it will be taken from the spot where the foul occurred.


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Chukkas A polo match is usually divided into four to eight timed periods. These periods are called chukkas (different kinds of spelling can be chukker, chucker, etc.), and they last seven minutes of actual playing time. A pony is supposed to play a maximum of one complete chukka. However, after a specified rest ponies may come in for another period. Professional polo players often change their pony after a rapid sprint. Firstly, the deliberate and intentional tactical use of the ponies is often essential for victory, and secondly the ponies should be given the necessary rest so that they keep up their enthusiasm.

Bell After seven minutes’ playing time the chukka bell is rung. From this first bell another 30 seconds are played. If a foul is whistled on, the ball goes out, or a goal is scored after the first bell, the chukka is ended immediately. If not, the second bell will ring after 30 seconds of added time to end it. The final chukka is always ended by the first bell.

Horsemanship In spite of many prejudices, the polo horse is seen as a teammate and not as a piece of sports equipment. The quality and the motivation of his pony is the linchpin for a player’s success and his involvement in the game. Often a spectator may get the impression that ponies react to a changing course of the game before the horseman does. In polo circles it is said that the ponies’ proficiency represents at least 80 per cent of the playing quality. At the end of a tournament weekend, the selection of “The Best Playing Pony” and the awarding of a prize in the course of the official ceremony honors and rewards the ponies’ proficiency.


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Polo Horses – Breed and Training Most of the polo horses (also called “polo ponies“) come from Argentina. Strictly speaking, the polo horse is not a breed but rather a type. Compared to other sport horses, polo horses are considered rather small. An ideal height should be between 150 and 160 centimeters (the breeding standard of the Raza Polo Argentino is 156 centimeters). The Argentine Association of Polo Pony Breeders, defining a breeding standard and standing for a certain standard of quality, was not founded until 1984. Mainly in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia pure thoroughbreds (gallop racers) are used for polo. Basically, polo can be played with any suitable horse. A crossbreed between criollos (the working horse of gauchos on Argentinean cattle farms) refined with English thoroughbreds is particularly appropriate. In Argentina, these thoroughbred crosses are often used for working with cattle during their training period. Here they playfully learn the essential qualities a polo pony needs to have: Accelerating swiftly, stopping precisely and being agile. At the same time, condition and surefootedness are thus developed, and the animals’ musculoskeletal system is trained. After their basic training the horses are gradually made familiar with playing polo. If they have been instructed in working with a lasso, the horses’ familiarization with a polo mallet will not be a problem. Before exporting them abroad, young horses are usually gently brought into games in Argentina. Here, special regard is paid to the fact that the animals develop and gain their play instinct. A young horse’s professional and diligent education and its training are crucial for motivated and powerful horses later. Polo horses distinguish themselves as being extremely social and having a strong character. In a match, four to six ponies per player are needed. During the playing season the horse’s condition will be trained thoroughly. Therefore, often one horse is ridden while three to five horses trot alongside as hand horses. This training and keeping enhances the horses’ herd instinct and makes them most easy-going in handling. Completing this fitness training, each horse will usually be given individual training. Besides riding lessons, the so-called “Stick and Ball” will also be exercised to practice both the horseman’s skills and swing technique and the pony’s skills in stopping and turning, so its rideability and permeability are stimulated and refined individually.


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equipment The adjacent photo shows the player’s and the pony’s typical equipment which is obligatory for any tournament. In the game the player must wear protective headgear including a chinstrap, as well as knee pads, boots, white breeches and a team shirt. The polo mallet will complete this list of obligatory equipment. Faceguards, possibly non-breakable glasses (goggles) and mouth guards are necessary to protect eyes and the facial area. Most of the polo players wear gloves on both hands or at least on their hitting hand. More and more frequently you will see players wearing further safety equipment like elbow pads, back protectors and wrist guards. The pony’s legs are carefully wrapped with bandages, often supplemented with protectors like brushing or tendon boots (which help to protect cannon bones and fetlock). Its mane must be trimmed to prevent the reins or mallet from entangling. Of course it would be at least as dangerous if the mallet became entangled in the pony’s tail, so this is plaited and wrapped for the course of the game. The typical and obligatory equipment and turnout of a pony includes: Polo saddle Bridle including double reins Standing martingale Breast collar Bandages and/or protecors Trimmed mane Tied-up tail


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Further Equipment Besides the field itself you will also need further equipment for your pony’s keeping, care and training. As the training and keeping of polo ponies is a very complex subject, this book will not deal with it in detail. However, the importance of it must be strongly emphasized! Polo horses are real athletes who are top-performing and motivated because of their breeding, selection, schooling, training and keeping. To keep this level requires species-appropriate and competent handling. These jobs should be assumed by a routine and qualified groom. Listed below is further equipment typical for polo.

Protective Helmet Below is a detailed illustration of a typical polo helmet including faceguard. These traditional helmets are kind of a modification from the pith helmet the British often used to wear when playing polo. More up-to-date models are often DIN-tested and available in lighter and modern versions, fully developed in the sense of safety.

Mouth Guard When using a mouth guard you should ensure that it is produced for stroke sports and protects both the jaw line and mouth area.

Goggles Goggles should be composed of non-breakable material like polycarbonate. Besides UV protection they also offer protection against flies and dust and even protect the eyes from flying balls or hits. Some polo associations stipulate the wearing of faceguards and/or goggles for juvenile polo players.

Gloves Gloves should be from a durable material but not too thick. Often only the right glove is used, so polo gloves are mostly available separately.


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Whip Whips, including any tag, must not be longer than 122 centimeters.

Spurs Make sure your spurs, including any rowel, are worn blunt. The prescribed length here is a maximum of three centimeters. Wearing spurs which might hurt a horse is forbidden.

Elbow Protectors In polo, you will often see back and arm protectors coming from other sports like inline skating and motocross.

Wrist Braces On the right wrist polo players often wear common wrist bandages to support and guard the joint.

Walking Sticks Besides the standard mallets, a walking stick (a short stick of about 28 to 32 inches), called foot mallet or taco de pie should complement the equipment. The walking stick is an essential training tool, as considered later in the book.

Stick Bag The polo bag, also known as a mallet bag or stick bag, is quite a helpful tool for transporting your mallets. Typical is the bone-shaped form which accommodates mallets as well as helmet and knee protectors.

Polo Balls Having a good stock of polo balls is of course important, too. For comparison, you can see below a sequence of illustrations of different balls used in different sports (beginning from left: Polo ball, hockey ball, tennis ball and golf ball).

Goggles for the Horses’ Eyes Goggles to protect the horses’ eyes are an innovative item in polo.


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T-Shirts for Training Chukkas In many clubs you will be asked to bring T-shirts in various colors for training chukkas. These shirts should be found in any polo bag. Polo Boots and Boot Bag Boots are best transported in a boot bag. After the game you should clean your boots with water and saddle soap, to make sure the horse’s sweat does not cause stains or even damage to the leather. Traditional polo boots are made from brown leather and are traditionally cleaned with colorless saddle soap. If you care for your boots in this way, instead of using shoe polish on black boots, they will not leave stains on your fellow players’ clothes. This is certainly a sign of traditional respect to both the opponent and to the grooms, who are responsible for boot cleaning. There are now variants of fashionable black leather boots. Tape for the Mallet To protect the mallet from moisture, you should prepare it with adhesive tape. The care of the mallet will be discussed in detail in the following chapter. Polo Studs A polo pony needs special polo shoes. The raised inner rim and light construction allow the horse to maneuver much more easily in different situations without losing its footing. Often the so-called “polo studs” are used. They are attached to the outside heel of the hind shoe to improve the pony’s stops and turns on the hind legs. Leg Protection You should try to protect the horse as efficiently as possible but without affecting its movements. Besides leg bandages and brushing or tendon boots, some players choose bell boots to protect the horses’ bulb and to prevent them from accidentally kicking off their front horse shoe.

Tips from the Pro Keep in mind lining up for a game fully-equipped, i.e. with correct and complete equipment. Protective clothing from other sports can be a reasonable supplement to the obligatory equipment. The walking stick is part of the polo player’s basic equipment. The polo ponies’ keeping, grooming and training should be left to routine and professional groomers.


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Mallet and Grip The Mallet This chapter describes components and models as well as the selecting, maintenance and handling of a stick. Traditionally, a polo mallet (also called stick or taco) consists of a willow or bamboo cane with a wooden head attached to it (stick head). Further models like sticks made of fiber, carbon or other composites are also available. The ball is struck with the longer sides of the mallet. Besides hitting a ball, the stick is also used for so-called sticking or hooking in defense. There is a sling at the grip which is supposed to prevent the player from losing the mallet during the game, for example while sticking another player. There are various models of polo sticks. They vary in size of the grip, length, flexibility, material, material and shape of the stick head and weight. Grip


Important: The stick must be held in the right hand only, even by players who are left-handed.


Mallet Head/ Cigar

Hitting Surface/ Face

Nearside hits, i.e. hits from the left-hand side of the pony, are hit by crossing the right arm over the mount’s neck!

Grip Size There are also different grip sizes available. The diameter of the grip range from grips for very small hands and children to mallets with big grips for strong players. Length The length of the polo mallet depends on the height of the horse and on the player’s arms. The most popular mallet sizes are 51 to 53 inches. Professionals might also consider the length of the grass when selecting the stick. Material As mentioned before, polo sticks are available in various materials. The typical stick with a bamboo cane is the most common. The flexibility of the stick is essentially influenced by the number of fiber bundles and therefore the number of nodes (knots or grains in the bamboo cane).


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Mallet Head and Weight Mallet heads are available in different weights (between 160 and 250 grams) and in different shapes. Mostly, the stick head has the form of a cylinder, and for this reason it is called a “cigar”. This term will be used throughout the book, as 90% of the world’s players prefer this stick shape. The toe of a cigar is often round while the heel is tapered. “Skene” and “R.N.P.A.” stick heads both can be distinguished by their tapered heel and toe. Argentine Tipa (Tipuana blanca) is undoubtedly the world’s most popular timber used for stick heads. The weight of a mallet chiefly depends on the weight of its stick head. Usually the length is printed on the stick head. To this, the customer’s initials are applied with a special dye. Often mallets are color-coded to help assign them to the players. It is helpful to color-code sticks of different lengths because it simplifies seeing the different lengths from horseback (see picture on page 29).

Choosing the Mallet Selecting the right mallet should be assisted by a professional player. An experienced player is able to broadly estimate the physical qualities of a stick. For the average player a total weight of 520 grams (320 grams cane, 200 grams head) has been shown to be suitable. Sticks for women and children are lighter. The head should weigh at least 190 grams. There are various theories and opinions on the selection of the suitable mallet length. Some players use the same stick length regardless of the horse or the conditions. Others recommend selecting a stick one inch shorter in the case of long grass or a soft playing surface (for example in an arena or on a beach), and one inch longer on hard surfaces (such as ice) and on highly wornout or very short grass. Fundamentally, the mallet is the extension of the arm and should therefore be long enough that it brushes the grass when hitting.


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how to look After a mallet Canes should be straightened after each use and mallets should be hung up by the cigar. Pay attention that your mallets are kept dry and out of the sun! If you used your mallet on wet grass or if mallets became wet they should be dried afterwards. Wet conditions make the stick head spongy and fragile. Many players protect the cigar against the soaking in of moisture with a strip of plastic tape. Before the game, do not forget to check if the head is still tightly attached to the cane without rotating.

Tips from the Pro Broken mallets or stick heads can be repaired or be exchanged. Grip material can be either repaired or replaced by grip material from, for example, tennis. The best way to find the right mallet lengths is to do test swings on the horse in halt. Pay attention that the mallet is long enough that you strike the grass of the field and suits you for hits on both sides of the horse – especially for nearside shots! For better differentiation, mark stick heads of different length with different colors.


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Grip and Sling The term grip in polo can be used for both the grip of the stick and as a synonym for the correct way of holding your stick, i.e. the correct positioning of the hitting hand. The latter shall be discussed first. Having learned how to hold your mallet correctly, you can check your suitable diameter and the effort needed for holding the mallet. The Position of the Hitting Hand It is most important to get used to the correct positioning of the hand at the grip. Here, there is only one correct technique. The grip always stays the same, whatever swing you perform – it never alters. The wrist movement has a very large influence on the swing technique, as along with the generation of a strong torque it also has the function of leading the mallet during the swing. The mallet is to be held like a pistol, i.e. the index finger is in the trigger position. An illustration of the proper grip is shown on the left. The “Pistol Grip”

Hold the grip in your palm and make sure the mallet is like an extension of your forearm. Close your hand and wrap your fingers from the middle to the little one around the grip. Your thumb must be placed on top. The index finger is positioned like holding a pistol. This position prevents you from holding the mallet like a hammer. The index finger stabilizes the grip and helps to control the mallet. If you look at the grip from above, index finger and thumb are supposed to form a “V”. Please take care that you strictly avoid the grip shown on the left. It is called a “hammer grip”, because the fist is positioned as if holding a hammer.


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Golf players can simulate the following steps to learn the correct grip:

1 Grip the stick with the golf-club grip.

2 Have your fingers slide to 3 Release your left hand. the upper end of your stick.

A precise and correct grip, enables you to make use of the mallet as an extension of your arm. enables you to control the mallet. makes sure there is optimal transmission of power between your body’s impulse and your mallet.

Tips from the Pro Practice with a walking stick. Find the correct position by putting the mallet head on the ground. Make sure you can see the writing on it. Then grab the stick to make it the extension of your stretched arm and do not forget to apply the pistol grip.


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The Sling – How to Use it The correct grabbing of sling and grip is described below.

1 The sling is wrapped

2 Adjust the sling, i.e. tighten 3 Grab the stick from above. 4 Leave a free space of two

around the thumb and the back of the hand.

it by twisting the thong.

Think about the pistol grip!

fingers’ breadth between sling and back of the hand.

The sling has a slight supporting function and will help you to hold the mallet. Take care it is not adjusted too closely, otherwise you will not be able to release the mallet in precarious situations like serious sticking. Always try to consider this rule: You should be able to place two fingers between the sling and the back of your hand.


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Grip Fitting You will easily recognize a proper fitting – you should be able to comfortably fold the middle two fingers around the grip so their tips meet the flashy part of the palm, just beneath the thumb.

If the mallet grip is too big you will not be able to control your swing properly. Moreover, this tends to result in holding the mallet too firmly, which then leads to cramps in your wrist followed by rapid weariness and overstrain of your arm muscles.

If the mallet grip is too small the mallet head will start to lurch or rotate.


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pressure on the Grip Remember: Neither hold your grip too loosely nor too tightly. The ideal effort is difficult to explain in theory. The perfect grip is comparable to the pressure you would apply to squeeze toothpaste out of its tube or like a solid confident handshake. Holding the grip too loosely causes rotation of the mallet at the moment of impact. This affects the way the ball flies and the distance of the stroke. On the other hand, holding the grip too strongly causes overstrain of the wrist and your lower arm muscles and you will not be able to perform a correct swing. The pressure on the grip can be reduced by slightly relaxing the ring finger.

Tips from the Pro Try to learn the correct hand position from the very beginning. Develop a feeling for optimal grip pressure. Use the sling correctly and practice the pistol grip. Consider with every swing, no matter if offside or nearside: If you look at the stick head, you must be able to see the labels. Remember, the grip always stays the same, no matter which swing you perform. Once you determine which grip size suits you, be sure to have all your mallets made to that size by your manufacturer. Grip material can be either repaired or replaced by grip material from other sports, like tennis for example. Make sure the sling is not too tight to the back of your hand; there should be space for two fingers between sling and back of the hand.


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Carrying the mallet It is essential to carry the mallet ready for the next shot in order to perform a correct swing at any time. Head and cane face straight up in the air, i.e. the cigar is at the highest position, and the tapered end of the head is showing forward. With the elbow bent at your side the arm slightly touches the body. In this way, the mallet is in a very balanced position which requires little power and you are ready to strike the ball at any time. This position is often compared to holding a sword during ancient times. During breaks in a chukka or a break between chukkas, or when you are riding to the field or to the pony line, you just let the grip go and allow the mallet to lean against your shoulder. According to experience, many polo players slip into an incorrect method of carrying the mallet. These examples can often be seen on a field:

Important These positions might appear casual, but they are absolutely out of the question. They not only affect reaction time and energy but also put pressure on your wrist. Moreover, there is a danger of the mallet getting between the horses while you are riding off.

Tips from the Pro Always start your swing from a correct position, holding the mallet balanced, because this is the most power-saving and a basic condition for a good swing technique. The mallet must be held precisely to keep it in a balanced starting position. Make sure your hand position at the grip is correct. Professional players call it “Wrist Power Balance�. If you carry the mallet correctly, it does not annoy the horse and there is no danger of the mallet getting between the horses when you are riding off. Holding the mallet properly, you can easily and immediately perform nearside and offside swings.


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Point of Shoulder



Flank Carpus Canon Fetlock

Hock Joint


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The Polo horse Now we have reached the point where the teammate the horse comes in. The horse’s dynamics are of distinctive importance for the polo swing. This chapter deals with the polo ponies’ characteristics and the specifics of polo riding. Above all, some basic principles of a good communication with the horse will be explained, which will help you understand its reactions.

Characteristics of the Polo Horse A polo pony must be physically and mentally fit for the sport. The polo horse should be: nn nn nn nn nn nn nn nn nn nn nn nn

Sure-footed Fast Agile Motivated Good-tempered Socialized Physically fit Trained Strong-nerved Trusty Steady Balanced

In polo a horse is demanded to carry out tight turns, quick stops and turnings and much more. For polo, you need a well-balanced horse which has learned by training to keep its own body and that of the horseman in balance. Here, horses which fit the shape and proportion of “quarter horses” with a preferably low center of gravity are favored. You might draw parallels to motorsport, of course.


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The Balance of a Polo Horse – Static and Balance Point of a Horse’s Body “A horse keeps its balance as long as the perpendicular of its balance points stays within the horse’s base of support” (EVRARD 2008: 6). In order to understand this quotation and help the horse in balancing throughout riding, you have to acquaint yourself with some basics of the static and dynamics of a horse. The main part of a horse’s body weight rests on its forehand. This is about 55–60 percent, as a result of the head and neck. The horse’s neck operates as a rudder and stabilizer; for example, the horse is able to counterbalance its balance point with the help of its neck. Therefore, the proportions, flexibility and the position of the neck have a major influence on a horse’s balance. Watching a free-roaming horse, you will notice it nodding with a gentle up-and-down motion of the head accompanied by a slight movement of the neck backwards and forwards. The horse’s body can be roughly divided into three parts. The forequarter consists of head, neck, shoulder and forearms. The thorax, the rump and the withers with the back make up the body, while hip, croup, hind legs and tail are part of the hindquarter. The center of gravity of a horse at the standstill is approximately situated at the back end of its sternum; a point of crossing between a horizontal line that drops from the highest point of withers to the floor and the connecting line from the ischial tuberosity (buttock) to the point of the shoulder. A person’s or a horse’s center of gravity can be found beyond the body’s boundaries, as is the case in tight turns for example. A horse’s center of gravity includes the area of a rectangle which is formed by connecting the horse’s four limbs. A standing horse’s balance point is situated somewhat in front of the point of crossing between the diagonals of this rectangle. In motion, the location of the balance point will shift. Looking at rectangular-shaped horses, you will realize that their length exceeds their height, proportionally seen; because of this fact they have a wider base of support (in comparison to horses with the same height as length) and tend to have a point of balance which is nearer to the ground. This is the reason why they are much easier to keep in balance than horses with a square-shaped frame, whose body length and height are almost identical. Looking at the drawings on the left you can see that the rectangular-shaped horses show the desired deep ribcage, a low point of balance and ample space for big lungs. A horse’s conformation allows for quick movements. Its legs operate as a means of support and locomotion. As the largest proportion of the body weighs on the forehand, the forearms are at work as springs and shock absorbers. The horse’s hind limbs are primarily relevant for the forward thrust. The hind quarters often are denoted as the horse’s motor or impulse. A horse is barely able to twist its legs sideward.


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Riding Polo Horses Some people are born riders; others have to develop a feeling for it and overcome certain fears before they dare to mount a horse. Beginners in polo will fairly easily notice that a polo pony is usually very well trained and schooled, so the inexperienced horseman has an easy time developing confidence on horseback. Through regular training (never-used groups of muscles will often be found here), the beginner gains confidence at an early stage and learns to control the horse. The intention is to make the pony react to the player’s faintest signals, while he is concentrating on strategy and polo swings during the game. In riding, balance is of immense importance. If the player sits on his pony in a balanced position, he will be able to instruct the pony precisely and properly without affecting its balance. This book is not supposed to be a course book for riding but for conveying the technique of the proper polo swing. The riding should always be supervised and guided by a professional instructor. As for the swing, the communication with your horse, the balance between player and horse and – above all – the horse’s dynamics are essential. We therefore look at some particularly important details of polo riding and the typical seat in polo, known as the half-seat, as this builds the basis for the correct hitting position.

Peculiarities of Polo Riding The photographs below show the most important elements of the polo horse’s saddle and tack. Various types of bit are permitted in the sport of polo. A standing martingale is obligatory in tournaments. The overgirth on the saddle serves as an additional safety strap in the event of the girth tearing.

Bridle Reins Dropband Bit Saddle Pommel Breast Collar Knee Roll Overgirth Stirrup Leather and Iron Girth



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Rein and Whip Handling In polo, reins and whips are held in the left hand. In a tournament, polo ponies must be controlled with double reins, i.e. the player has to hold four reins in one hand. The following illustration shows the correct gathering up of the reins; variations are possible. The correct rein handling should be as follows: n The left hand forms a fist. n The two upper reins are positioned between thumb and index finger. n The two lower reins are positioned between index and middle finger. n The thumb is placed on top. n The reins must be straight, i.e. they must be twisted or crossed. n The respective ends of every rein go alongside the palm. n The ends of the reins are positioned at the left side of the horse’s neck. n Both pairs should be held the same length, i.e. the upper reins run parallel and the respective right hand or left hand reins shall have the same distance from the horse’s bit to the rein hand. n The reins are held gently connected to the horse’s mouth; you should feel its mouth slightly, though the reins should not be used too heavily either. Re-grasping and lengthening the reins: Re-grasping the reins means you shorten them. To do so, you have to grip the reins with your hitting hand (the right one) behind the rein hand (left one) towards the end of the reins. Now you can open the rein fist slightly and have the rein hand move along the reins in the direction of the horse’s ears until you have shortened them to the length you wish. Here, the reins glide between your fingers. Re-grasping requires a bit of practice – especially with the mallet held in your right hand. To lengthen the reins you have to open the rein hand slightly, too, and allow the reins to glide easily through the palm. The whip is held together with the reins in the left hand. Here you should make sure that it does not affect the nearside swing. Moreover, it has to be kept close to the body in order not to interfere with the opponent during riding-off.

Tips from the Pro n

When your reins are too long: Knot the ends together to prevent them from entangling with the rest of your equipment.


Practice re-grasping during your training in order to make this a routine action.


Keep your rein fist clenched while you are riding, so the reins do not glide off your hand accidentally; make sure the thumb is on top, like a roof, and clutches the fist.


The whip is one part of your basic equipment. You should get used to holding the whip together with the reins in your left hand.


If the whip has a loop, put it over your wrist.


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Stirrups A polo player’s balance depends on his seat while sitting in the saddle. The balance and the technique of a polo swing are also mainly affected by the seat. Stirrups give the horseman firmness in the saddle and help him in balancing on horseback and while performing the swing. There are two methods that may help you to determine the appropriate length: 1. You can determine the length of the stirrups according to the length of your arms. 2. You should be able to fit a fist between your bottom and the pommel when standing up in the saddle.


On the ground: Stretch your arm and place your fingertips on the pommel. Stirrup leather and stirrup iron should be as long as it needs to touch your armpit. On horseback: Rule of thumb is: The upright fist should fit between the horseman’s bottom and the saddle when standing up in the stirrup irons.

Consequences of overly short stirrups If the stirrups are too short, the horseman’s knee will not find enough footing at the knee roll. The horseman then tends to “sit over the horse”, and the point of gravity is shifted. Consequences of overly long stirrups


If the stirrups are too long, the player cannot possibly raise his weight off the saddle. A correct hip rotation will not be possible and there will be a danger of gliding out of the stirrups and losing them.

Getting into the stirrups correctly Always enter into your stirrups from the outside. Make sure the stirrup leather is positioned flatly at the knee roll and you put on the stirrups from their outside branch. The adjacent illustration shall demonstrate the correct positioning of the stirrup leathers. In the stirrups, put your weight on the balls of your feet, raise your toes slightly and push down the heels. In this way the joints of your feet can absorb shock from the horse’s movements. Correct placement of the stirrup: Heels down, the stirrup iron does not shove towards the heels, but is placed at the balls of the feet (which is the widest part of the foot). In this area, typical polo boots wrinkle up. 41

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Tips from the Pro n

The horse’s field of vision is a lateral one, i.e. they are able to see the horseman’s actions and the horseman has a sensation that the horse guesses his intentions. However, this can lead to confusion if aids are not given clearly or the horse is made insecure by the player’s actions. In the course of the play this wastes precious time and the horse’s and rider’s energy.


Take your time to adjust your stirrups to the fitting length and mark the stirrup leathers at this point.


While you are riding, keep in mind getting into your stirrups correctly, and push down the heels. Maintain your boots especially in the ankle region and ensure that the leather is soft and elastic enough to allow this movement.

The Seat in Polo Riding – Sitting Balanced – Out of the Horse – Half-Seat Polo riding demands an assured, effortless and unclasped seat. By means of the correct seat the drive and the dynamics of the horse’s body can be used for the swing. In quick maneuvers, like tight turns and quick stops, the seat shall help the horseman to stay in balance and support the horse in keeping its balance.The riding seat in polo should be assured, light and independent. Hereby the horseman should sit in his saddle comfortably and naturally. Assured means that the rider should have control over his and his horse’s movements. Light means that the polo player sits in the half-seat position while galloping and at the moment of basic position for the swing. That is, he takes his weight off the saddle. This is what is called sitting “outside the pony”; the horse’s back is relieved. Independent means the player’s two hands operate independently from the rest of his body. This holds true for the rein and hitting hand! In order not to confuse the horse, the swinging movement (movement of the body) must be as independent as possible from the rider’s seat, i.e. from the rider’s legs. Basics of the Rider Seat For an assured, comfortable and natural seat you have to develop a sense for the horse’s rhythm of motion. When riding, the horseman’s hip follows the horse’s movements (the same in half-seat and in hitting position). Your back should be erect, the abdominal muscles slightly tensed. The head is upright but relaxed; shoulder blades gently squeezed together, falling backwards, but with the torso staying straight and upright. You should make sure not to bend your hips rightwards or leftwards.


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The Half-Seat – Outside of the Horse In half-seat you sit out of the horse. For this, you shift the weight off the saddle; the momentum change results mostly from the knees and lower legs. The half-seat is modified from the twopoint-seat in English riding. The half-seat is similar to the position you adopt standing up while your horse is trotting. Mainly you steer your horse with your knees and lower leg. For this you have to develop a tight grip with your knees on the saddle (knee roll). You must adapt a good, tight knee position with heels down first, then place your foot on the outside of the stirrup and put more weight on the balls of your feet. Bring your lower legs outwards and downwards as an extension of your knees, and you will gain pressure on your knees. You might sometimes hear the advice to squeeze your knees, but mostly this will have an undesired effect. If you squeeze your knees to the knee roll you will lose pressure on the stirrups and heels.

Features of the adjacent picture: nn




Heels down, knees bent and deep, i.e. in a downward rolling motion, ankle joint is elastic and absorbs shock. Pressure in stirrups, foot is positioned outwards – this helps to get the knee tight to the knee roll. Bend your torso forward – from the hips – weight is on stirrups, the balance point is slightly shifted forwards. Horse’s back is relieved, the rider seats in half-seat/out- side the horse. A maximal rotation of the shoulder is possible now. A soft connection the horse’s mouth, though hand should not be too deep and in the direction of the horse’s ears.

The half-seat and the correct, balanced position of the mallet in the starting position are essential for the correct hitting technique. The transition from the half-seat to the hitting position will be explained in a later chapter. 43

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The Communication with the Horse Internalizing some of the basic principles of equestrian behavior and the ways of communicating with a horse has proved to be quite helpful for polo riding. Primarily you should be aware of the fact that horses are herd and flight animals. They are animals which are able and willing to live in a subordinate structure. By means of breeding and selection these characteristics have been made use of over the years to domesticate the horse as a working and domestic animal. And yet a horse’s nature still complies with that of a prey and flight animal, having learned by practice and familiarization to oppress these instincts, which are still essential for surviving in the wild. For this reason, please be aware that horses have a refined perception together with an immediate reaction! A horse’s perception is affected by its field of vision. Horses have an amazing peripheral vision (an angle of about 190 degrees for one eye). The horse’s eyes are set on the sides of its head, allowing it to observe different objects separately. Binocular vision is only possible in the area where the fields of vision of both eyes overlap. As the eyes are located toward the sides of the head, horses have a blind spot directly in front of the forehead. This blind spot is overcome by raising, lowering or turning the head. Always remember that horses are clearly able to perceive the horseman’s actions which he performs with his body, legs, arms and mallet – and they can even be confused by these actions.

Tips from the Pro n

Give enough reins to the horse so it is able to use its neck as a balance pole and its vision field is not too limited.


Pay attention to a precise carrying of the mallet.


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A Horse’s Behavior with the Rider on its Back The principle of “actio et reactio” is also adaptive to horsemanship. A rider’s action will cause an immediate reaction by the horse. The conscious acting is called “riding aids”. For a wild horse herd, a clear and well-defined hierarchy is vital. As horses are herd animals they behave as silently as possible and communicate with the help of their body language. Horses can learn to interpret the faintest body signals. Your communication with a horse should always be nn nn nn

clear, immediate and well-defined.

For a communication with his horse, the horseman can choose from these riding aids: nn nn nn nn nn

Legs/thighs Reins/hand Weight Voice Aids like whip or spurs

Aids can be motivating or restraining and even have a calming effect (voice). Aids should be given clearly and in a well-defined manner and at the same as faintly as possible and as strongly as needed. Weight A proper weight shifting will help the horse; an inaccurate one will destabilize it! You should always have the feeling that the horse is in front of you but never have the feeling of being in front of its point of balance. As polo horses have an ideal height of about 156 cm and a weight of 400–500 kg, the horseman can exert considerable influence on the horse’s balance with the help of his weight. Weight as a riding aid in polo is an important means of communication between horseman and horse. You can imagine the effect of the horseman’s weight on the horse as follows: A first-grader strolls along with an oversized, stuffed satchel. The child can easily be destabilized or redirected by grabbing the handle. While the child is preventing himself from falling, he will try to compensate the for weight of the satchel by shifting weight or by sidestepping. A horse will do the same with a horseman on its back. It will always be anxious to keep its own and the horseman’s weight in balance. 45

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Leg/Thighs Thighs as riding aids are used to give impulse with the help of your legs. In polo, these impulses are mainly transferred with knees and lower legs. Reins/Hand The reins are used to restrain a horse, to block or contain its forward movement or to turn it. You also can call the horse’s attention by gently pulling back the reins. In polo, you make use of neck reining, too, and this will be discussed later. Pulling back the reins can be established by holding the reins steadily and firmly, because this affects the horse’s natural up-and-down neck movement, i.e. the bit puts pressure on the horse’s mouth.

A Horse’s Dynamic – the Horse’s Motion Sequences Playing polo stands for the ability to adapt to different speeds. When swinging, the pony’s speed and momentum influence nn nn nn

the extent of the body twist, shoulder rotation and aiming and impact.

The influence of horse gaits on the polo seat and the polo swing is described in a later chapter. Now we will explain some of the basics of a horse’s dynamics. There are three gaits with which a polo pony moves: Walk, trot and gallop.

Walk The walk is the slowest basic gait, which is a natural four-beat movement. The motion sequence of the walk can be divided into eight phases. There is no period of suspension, and at least two of the horse’s hooves touch the ground, which means that the horse’s legs follow regular 1-2-3-4 sequences. The pony lifts his hooves as follows: Left front leg, right hind leg, right front leg, left hind leg. In walk, the rider sits in the saddle, and yet he has constant pressure on his ankle joints and the balls of his feet. The heels should be pushed down as far as possible, toes up. For hitting, the horseman stands up in the stirrups and passes to half-seat and further to the hitting position.


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Trot The trot is a steady two-beat gait, which is divided into four phases. In the first and third phase of trot the diagonals, i.e. one front leg and the opposite hind leg, touch the ground at the same time. In between these phases – that is, in the second and fourth phase – no hoof touches the ground. This phase is called period of suspension. In polo you will mostly ride in rising trot. In English riding and dressage a horseman sits the trot rather than post it, i.e, he stays in the saddle moving along the horse’s strides.

In rising trot, the rider rises with every other beat and absorbs the horse’s jolts. This technique requires some practice. It is necessary to learn rising up and down in the correct rhythm. The rider should allow himself to be thrown up slightly and lower himself immediately after that. Raising your seat is done by gently stretching knees and hips with hardly any physical effort. Faults are mostly made because a horseman rises too slowly, too wide or too long. When practicing, it may help to count the pony’s beat (1, 2, 1, 2 … or up, down, up, down…). Losing your balance when rising indicates you have risen too high or your stirrups are too long. You will feel a double bounce sitting down if you stand in your stirrups for too long. The same applies if you fall back in your saddle with every stride. Try to have yourself pulled back into the saddle with every upwards motion of the horse’s back.


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Gallop – the Right-Lead Gallop and the Left-Lead Gallop Gallop is a three-beat gait, and the swiftest of the three gaits. It consists of six phases, with a suspension phase in between every gallop stride when all four hooves are off the ground. Unlike walk and trot, in gallop one distinguishes between right-lead gallop and left-lead gallop. Whether a horse is galloping left-lead or right-lead can be judged by watching its front legs. In right-lead, the horse’s right front leg is thrown further forward than the other – the horse’s weight moves to the right. As penalties, hit-ins and others are generally performed from the offside, polo ponies are used to galloping on right-lead. A proper gallop, i.e. the corresponding pony’s footfall and the swing of the gallop stride, can be used for the polo swing. When hitting at gallop you should make your horse gallop left-lead for nearside swings, and right-lead for offside swings. Horses can change to gallop during the jump stride (flying change) or by a short switch through walk or trot (simple change). In both right-lead and left-lead, the pony should jump the gallop correctly, i.e. it should keep to the correct sequence of footfalls. If the pony gallops beginning from the right front leg and the left hind leg or vice versa, this is called cross-galloping.


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Footfall in gallop: nn nn nn nn

The respective outer hind leg is lifted first, the inner hind leg and the outer front leg follow simultaneously, closely behind the inner front leg; after that the pony is in a suspension phase.

As soon as the pony has jumped into gallop, the rider sits in the half-seat position. When he wants to change speed, he pushes the pony by intensifying its motions in propelling forward with legs and weight. He can also reduce the pony’s motions by rising up or leaning backwards and thus adding weight to the saddle. Generally speaking, if you want to slow down or halt your pony, you have to shift your point of balance backwards on the pony’s hind legs. You can cue your pony by either keeping the rein hand in its position while leaning back (this exerts pressure inside the pony’s mouth, because the hand will not follow its movements anymore) or by pulling back on the reins. In order to economize strength, polo players often perform the up-and-down movement analogously to the rising trot.


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How to Control the Horse The following information is about controlling a horse in halting, turning and changing of gaits and, moreover, keeping it in balance. Changing of Gaits – Transition The most frequent transition in a polo match is that from walk or halt to gallop or vice versa. For starting the gallop, you take up the reins and thus make the pony raise his head a bit and then cue it to a proper and quick pace by giving leg aids and driving it forward with hip and body. This will help make the pony alert. The right-lead gallop is achieved by putting increasing pressure with the left (outer) leg and slightly shifting body weight to the right. If you edge your fist hand rightwards, it can support this action. Now the aids are intensified by an impulse given with both legs and a weight shift forwards. Reins are taken forward and support this action. Without trotting the pony should change – jump – into gallop. When galloping you should always keep in mind that playing polo means steering and controlling with the help of your legs!

How to Stop a Horse The hindquarter is said to be the horse’s motor and impulse. This power is transferred through back and torso to the rest of the body. The front legs sustain the main part of the weight. Polo is a fast-paced sport with a constant alternating of halting, turning, starting, and short or longer sprints. Often, a halt is followed by a turn or a quick start. The pony should always have his hind legs under the barrel and shift its weight (and that of the horseman) to his hindquarter in order to be capable of performing the halt and the successive maneuver correctly (to prevent damage to its locomotor system). This is referred to as a pony halting on its hind legs. Sitting back and deeply in and thus putting weight in the saddle and retarding the pony’s motion makes it halt. Restraining a horse like this makes it understand that it has to slow down or even halt. The halting movement is intensified by closing and squeezing the legs and gathering the reins. The latter should be as gentle as possible and as strong as necessary; rather than pulling back, it should resemble keeping the rein hand in its position. Here, the rein fist is closed more firmly than before. Now that the hand stops following the pony’s movements, the pony will feel pressure on its mouth. Try to avoid rapid and pulling actions; if the pony gets too much pressure on its mouth it will tend to halt on its forequarter, i.e. it will toss its head and will thus neither be able to halt nor to perform the following maneuver correctly. Moreover, the pony’s mouth will become insensitive over time.


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The following exercise demonstrates how the horseman’s weight is transferred to the pony. Sit down on a chair in an upright position and put your hands under your buttocks, palms up. Now bend your torso backwards and keep your back straight. Try this weight shifting also to the left and to the right. With every halt you should pay attention to preparing the pony for this maneuver. Take care not to stop breathing and not to draw back your knees during the halting. Practice halts from walk pace first and slowly increase the pony’s speed.

Tips from the Pro n

Before starting any maneuver, call the horse’s attention.


You should always be aware that a halt calls for a lot of energy from the pony.


Try to set yourself a limit of ten halts per chukka. This will help you avoid unnecessary runs and play in a more anticipatory manner.


Make sure your seat is proper and secure while halting. Both legs as well as weight should be close to the pony’s body.


You should never have the feeling of fighting with your pony during the process of halting. Try to carry out the transitions as harmoniously as possible.

. n

If your horse did the halt properly, you should give it a rest for about ten seconds before changing into another gait. In doing so, all four legs should be balanced and put due weight on. If you change too quickly, the horse will get used to performing the stops incorrectly (i.e. not on his hind legs) and shove forwards or sidewards.

Turning of the Horse Having the pony turn without halting is called a rollback, which is a common technique in polo. Directly from the movement it performs a 180-degree turn on its hind legs. This should be done continuously after the stop in a bouncing movement. The rollback is also referred to as “jumped pivot on the hindquarters”. Beneath its own weight, the pony has to counterbalance the horseman’s weight and will always be eager to keep in balance. Thus, it is important to give the pony enough time for precise reaction and the respective cue for a correct performance of this maneuver. The more prepared and the more alert it is, the fainter and subtler the aids will have to be.


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How to Support Your Horse in Turnings In turnings and rollbacks it is important to always look behind you, i.e. look over the shoulder at the direction you want to turn to. Fix the intended direction with your eyes; this makes your body rotate around its vertical axis (analogously to the polo swings). The pony will be anxious to follow this movement and take the turn together with its horseman – it will try to follow the rider’s view. In turnings you can take advantage of the so-called neck-reining. The pony will react on the rein pressure and thus try to draw aside it. Moving your rein hand to the left of the pony’s neck will lead to spin to the left as the rein squeezes on the right side and the pony therefore draws aside rightwards and vice versa. A right turn performed with the help of neck reining works as follows: nn



Move your rein hand forward and rightward with a clear impulsion, but take care not to pull the bit! The pony feels the leather squeeze against its neck and tries to draw aside by turning its head and neck rightwards. The impulsion given on the bit should be very weak only. In order keep its balance the pony will be anxious to follow this evasive movement with its body and your reins hereby work as aids on its neck.

However, the main aid in maneuvers is your weight, i.e. your weight shifting. Neck reining has only a supportive function here.

Initiation of turn

Weight shifting to the right

The impulsion of neck reining

The pony responds and intensifies turn


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Santiago twists his body with the hips similar to a corkscrew. His weight and that of the pony are shifted to the right, yet both are balanced!

Pay attention to the following checkpoints in turning right: nn

Look back over your right shoulder.


Your right shoulder should twist in the direction of the pony’s tail, your torso is upright and yet bent slightly forwards, the back is straight.


Now your pony is prepared. Give the rein cue (move your fist to the right side of the pony’s neck) – see neck reining.


The pony will feel the squeeze of the reins on its left side of the neck and try to draw aside.


During this maneuver, your legs embrace the pony’s barrel, they transfer impulse and weight aids to the pony’s body.


It spins on its hindquarters

In this movement your left knee will feel more pressure and your body weight is shifted rightwards, so you put more pressure on the right stirrup.

And powerfully jumps out after the turn

Finalizing of the turn

End of the turn


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Treat the Horse’s Strengths and Resources with Care Out of respect to the pony and to ensure safety during the game, you should always be anxious to ride as correctly as possible and to intensively practice riding skills. Always keep in mind: These ponies shall be used for this sport for as long as possible. The basis for a healthy, long-living pony is found in its breeding, rearing, training and keeping. Both the pony’s owner and the horseman are responsible for acting in terms of animal welfare and to sustain the pony’s health, motivation and enthusiasm for the game. The pony’s strength should always be treated with care. Experienced polo players will be anxious to involve their teammates into their play by planning ahead and making far-sighted use of the speed of the ball. If you pay heed to these factors you will be on the best path to becoming a good team player and a real horseman. Of course, horsemanship also requires profound knowledge about the keeping, maintenance and training of ponies. The aesthetic of this sport is chiefly down to subtle riding. Take your time and watch professional players and compare their riding styles. Graceful are those riders who control their pony without apparent aids. They are able to turn their pony with ease on its hindquarters on the smallest spots and then immediately stretch it and gallop along the field at high speed in an oftentimes exciting chase after the ball.


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The Hitting Technique We will look at the polo swing technique by taking the fully performed polo swing, called full-swing offside-forward (short “full-swing”), as an example. It is regarded as the very basic shot of polo and should be mastered technically accurately. It is performed at the horse’s offside in its moving direction. The full-swing is a flowing motion with the mallet head creating a complete 360-degree circle.

The Theory of Hitting Every polo player should understand the basic relations between his swing and the flight characteristics of the ball. Among other things, the swinging movement influences: nn nn nn nn

The direction which the stick heads swings in. The angle the mallet head strikes the ball. The impact on the striking surface. The speed of the mallet head.

The basics of hitting and expressions from the sport of polo as well as the anatomy of the human body and that of a horse will be mentioned in the glossary for further reading and information.

Learning the Technique with the Walking Stick As the polo swing is a very complex motion sequence, many mistakes in the movements can creep in here. Following, you will be shown how to acquire and improve the full-swing offside forward with a walking stick.


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Why Begin with a Walking Stick? You might ask yourself if it would not be better to learn the polo swing from horseback, for this is what you have to do in a game: Mount a horse and play. There is a simple explanation. If you have full control of the swing with a walking stick on the ground, you will be able to develop a proper swing from horseback. It will be almost impossible to properly learn and control the swing technique from horseback if you have problems in correctly performing the swing with your feet on the ground. Learning Targets nn nn nn nn nn

Controlling the stick – learn to control your mallet Sharpen your hand-eye coordination – learn to judge the distance between ground and mallet Strike control – learn to control striking distance and striking direction Body control (and balance) – learn to use your body properly and practice your body’s rotation Refinement of mistakes – correct your mistakes, try to avoid swings with wrist motion from the very beginning

Therefore, the walking stick is one of the most important parts of your training equipment! The Method Santiago Schweitzer divides the full polo swing into three parts. This division is supposed to help you learn the proper technique step by step.

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through

Every step is accompanied by checkpoints.


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The Three Steps to Full-Swing Step 1: Basic Position

Description of Step 1 The basic position simulates the riding situation; it corresponds to the typical half-seat in polo. The player balances out his weight on both legs, standing in a position with slightly angled knees. His left hand is clenched to a relaxed fist at the level of the reins. The mallet is held in a neutral position in front of the body, as if carrying a sword or scepter. Both arms are held like “praying�, with the same distance to the body. The following checkpoints shall help you understand these moves.


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Stance at shoulder’s length nn feet placed parallel nn knees slightly bent nn weight is on the forefoot and is balanced out between both legs nn

Hitting arm/mallet in its basic position nn out-balanced mallet in neutral position nn cane is vertical nn the upper arm touches the body nn

Position of the mallet head head is the highest point


Left arm simulates holding the reins


Shoulders are parallel to feet and hips


Hips are parallel to feet


Upper part of the body bent slightly forward nn bends from the hip nn the whole back remains straight nn

Posture of the head/gaze straight ahead, in direction of travel


Position of the ball at about 45 cm from the outer edge of the right foot


Please note: The precise ball position depends on the length of your arm and your mallet (position of the ball will be discussed in detail in another chapter).


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Step 2: Backswing

Description of Step 2 The backswing should be equally focused on the body rotation and mallet and arm extension. The transition from the basic to the swinging position is to be performed as follows: Shift your weight to the right leg. Now turn your right shoulder in the direction of the imaginary horse’s tail (the upper body should rotate clockwise about its spin) until both shoulders are parallel to the line of the ball. Ideally, the left shoulder aims at the ball. Simultaneously, the hitting arm is raised and straightened backwards (to the horse’s tail). When you perform this movement, you might imagine a movement like opening a casement window with your right arm. Pay attention to the fact that your stick must be directed upwards! Elbow and forearm turn rightwards and at the end of the movement the arm is straightened. It is absolutely necessary to pay attention that your forearm stays comparatively close to your upper body (imagine that you want to pick up a phone!). Imagine there is a glass panel parallel to the horse’s spine and you have to perform the backswing between the horse (here the outer edge of your right foot) and this panel. As you have learnt, the index finger of the hitting hand is fixed in the trigger position; the position of your bent wrist does not change! At the end of the backswing the right arm should be straightened and in one line together with both shoulders, parallel to the line of the ball. Your wrist is above your head. Here you could imagine you were aiming or pointing with your left shoulder at the ball. The cane stands at least vertically; the cigar is the highest point. The player’s gaze is focusing on the ball. All the muscles concerned are tensed, the backswing has reached its top of the swing, your right leg is now straightened and carries your weight. Your body is ready for the downswing. Naturally, the hips are able to support the upper body’s rotation in a limited way only, as the rider has to keep his balance on horseback in order not to unbalance the horse.


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Stance weight is on the right leg (about 80% of body’s weight)


Hitting arm/mallet open “casement windows” nn grip remains unchanged nn arm is straightened and extends the shoulder line nn

Right wrist bent, hand posture: Trigger position


Position of the mallet head the cane is at least vertical at the end of the backswing nn the head is at the highest point of the swing nn

Left arm still simulates holding the reins


Shoulders upper body rotates rightwards nn left shoulder aims at the ball nn line of shoulders should be parallel to the line of the ball nn

Hips rotation clockwise, hips follow the shoulders as far as possible


Upper part of the body bent slightly from the hips, balanced nn the upper body itself is straight nn the center of gravity is shifted to the right side nn

Posture of the head/gaze keep your eye on the ball nn make sure your chin does not rest against your chest nn point your chin in the direction of movement nn

Pay attention to having your body tensed at the end of the backswing!


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Step 3: Hitting and Follow-Through

Description of Step 3 The final step of the swinging movement is covered by downswing (release), impact (hitting) and follow-through with the finish. At the end of the backswing the swing movement has reached the “top of the swing”. Of course, body tension here is of basic importance. To be able to visualize this phenomenon just imagine the backswing is like winding up a spring, which has absolute tension at its upper dead center, being ready to transform this into a maximum rotation during the downswing. All the muscles, tendons and joints concerned are strained. In order to relax this posture, the backswing results in an automatic reflective release. Here, only the torso will rotate; the head stays still, with eyes kept on the ball. The downswing is introduced by a downward movement of the right shoulder and is supposed to follow-up the backswing fluently. Move the mallet downwards clockwise. Basically, the straightened arm “falls down”, the grip does not change and during this downward movement the wrist is straightened. Consequently, the mallet head (and the wrist) turns, so that the mallet hits the ball with the broad side of the cigar. Eyes are still kept on the ball. For the highest possible impulse change, ball and head have to contact precisely.


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Stance weight is on the right leg


Hitting arm/mallet imagine yourself hitting the ball with the palm of your hand nn the stick strikes the ball with the broad side of the cigar nn note: you have to be able to see the numbers or initials on the mallet! nn

Right wrist is bent at the beginning of the backswing nn as soon as the mallet is at the horse’s hip point, straighten your complete arm to make wrist and mallet form one straight line nn the palm points ahead in direction of movement nn

Position of the mallet head ball contacts head at the sweet spot of the mallet during impact


Left arm still simulates holding the reins


Shoulders anti-clockwise, in direction of basic position


Hips mirror the shoulders, i.e. run parallel


Upper part of the body still bent forward nn at the end of the swing the weight should be shifted to the ball of the foot (the swinging movement ends in the half-seat position) nn

Posture of the head/gaze eyes are kept on the ball, still aiming nn make sure your chin does not rest against your chest nn

It is important to complete this downswing movement with a follow-through. Make sure your hitting arm is still straightened after the impact. Imagine head and ball are connected with a twine and the flying ball keeps dragging along the mallet. At this point your gaze is still on the ground.


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Finish: Final Position of the Swing

If you follow this advice, the swing will end as follows: nn nn nn


The cane is in an upright vertical position. The hitting arm is straightened and approximately parallel to the horse’s neck. The gaze is still on the ground (eyes kept on the striking point of the ball) and then follows the ball. From the end of the backswing to the end of the follow-through the hitting arm has roughly covered the same distance, as the radius stays the same.

Combining these Three Steps Combined, these three steps result in a rhythmical, flowing movement.


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Summary and Further Aspects of Hitting The Importance of the Correct Basic Position The basic position in polo and golf is of vital importance in order to start with the swing technically correct. Here, your leg technique is the key. You can compare balancing out in polo to making a snowplow in skiing. Balance your weight evenly between both legs with knees bent, so they are elastic and support balancing by shifting weight from one side to the other. Morever, knees are used for controlling the horse. In this case, even other sports like basketball can be referred to as an example. A basketball player who starts a maneuver will always have his knees bent in order to be ready to quickly start off or go around by shifting weight from one leg to the other and equalizing his center of gravity. As shown, the polo swing requires a good capability of rotating your shoulders. Only if your legs are adequately bent will shoulder and hip rotate the way they should. Try yourself and practice the way the pictures below illustrate. For this, Santiago stands on a snowboard, replacing the stirrups which fix the player’s feet at a certain degree.

Santiago on snowboard with legs completely stretched. Rotation of the body is hardly or not at all possible as knees and hips are completely stretched and straight.


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Now Santiago has his legs in an angled position, but he does not sufficiently shift his weight into the direction of hitting movement.

Here Santiago bends his knees and hips and shifts his weight to the right, the direction of rotation. The possible rotation of the body is increased. Wrist Power Balance The correct basic position requires precise and out-balanced holding of the mallet. As a brief reminder: Basic position means the cane is vertical, the wrist is not unnecessarily stressed and it balances out the weight of the mallet. This is what the Pro calls “Wrist Power Balance�.


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The Backswing – Useful Exercises nn nn


Imagine during your backswing a glass panel which is parallel to the horse’s horizontal axis. Practice the backswing standing next to a wall in order to maintain your swing plane and to get used to having your rotating arm close to your body. Never move your arm downwards, just imagine you are lifting your phone to the ear or opening a casement window.

Precision Every swing should be performed precisely, i.e. as accurately and constantly as possible, and goaloriented. A constant, correct and accurate swing enables you to: Develop further swings from this basic swing. nn Control distance, flight direction and flight path as well as speed of the ball. nn Develop a sense of timing and rhythm. nn Get the body used to the movement and have it retrievable with the help of your muscle memory. nn Aim precisely, pass the ball to teammates. nn Be valuable for the team. nn Maintain constant performance. nn Avoid swings with the flick of the wrist or the arms. nn Convert penalties. nn Go easy on your horse’s power. nn


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The End of the Backswing – Top of the Swing At the end of the backswing, body tension is of decisive importance. The body should be tensed at its maximum and release this tension in the downswing and the moment of impact.

Impact Precise hitting at the moment of impact shall ensure the following: nn Maximum speed of the stick head nn Swing direction of the head points exactly to target nn Impact of the ball in the center of the head at its sweet spot There are two sources of power in the golf swing: 1. The golf player’s muscles 2. Dropping the arms and the golf club with the help of gravitation In the polo sport, the horse’s dynamic is added.

Sweet Spot The ball should always be struck with the sweet spot of the mallet. The sweet spot is the spot of the hitting surface which has optimal change of the force of the mallet to the ball. Visualize the mallet as an extension of your arm when you are aiming, and at the moment of impact. Then try to imagine you want to hit the ball with your wrist. The mallet head should be in a position exactly aligned to the target.

Aiming When you aim at the ball it is important to focus and strike the lower half of it. If you aim at a point of the ball too high, you might tend to top it. During the full-swing offside-forward, the left shoulder should be as far as possible in a position over the ball and point down on it. After impact the target (i.e. the place where the ball lay) should still be in focus, that is, the gaze stays on the ground during and the follow-through. Always aim, never hit without a target!


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Follow-Through This picture of the mallet being the extension of your arm can also be taken exemplarily for the follow-through, which is the phase of hitting through of the polo swing. Here you should imagine yourself striking the ball with the palm of your hand and pushing your hand forward after the impact. Even after the moment of impact, the hitting arm stays straightened and the eyes are still on the ground. Imagine the head and the ball are bound together with a twine and the flying ball drags along the mallet. In the follow-through it is important to have the intention to strike the ball slowly and not to stop the movement at the moment of impact! A quotation by Hugh Dawney should explain the importance of the follow-through: ”In all techniques for striking a ball in any sport, the follow through is the vital last part of the recognized style. It is used to confirm accuracy and to increase power.” Rotation of Shoulder and Upper Part of the Body and Body Angles Long shots in polo have to be hit with a movement coming from the shoulder. The more your shoulder rotates, the less effort you will need in hitting. Hips and legs can only partly support the rotation as they would otherwise negatively affect the balance of the riding position. Performing the swing without arm power – this is an essential lesson, especially for beginners, which is as valid in polo as it is in golf.

Arm is extended, the left shoulder and the eyes are pointing towards the ball – all these factors provide the maximum shoulder rotation.

The straightening of the wrist begins as soon as the mallet is at the horse’s hip level.

At the moment of impact, gaze, arm and ball follow the same line.

When hitting, the rider shifts forward to the hitting position and moves down his knee at the knee roll. 71

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Pace, Rhythm and Timing – Partitioning of Speed Generally speaking, the pace of a swing is the speed of a swing, due to the player’s temperament and power. Rhythm is the partitioning of a swing in a well-balanced start, a fluent and yet settled change from the end of the backswing to the beginning of the downswing, accompanied by a smooth acceleration of the mallet to and through the ball. Timing is the precise interaction of the player’s hands, arms and body but also synchronization of the horse’s speed, that of the ball and of the mallet. Only good timing allows a chronologically precise sequence of all the elements a swing consists of. Timing is one of the most important elements of the polo swing. It might sound like a paradox, but the fact is: The slower and easier a swing begins, the higher the speed of the mallet head will become. Analogously to golf, the speed of the mallet head will increase if rhythm and timing are proper.

Flight Distance Being able to control swing direction and swing distance (flight distance) is immensely important. According to experience, aimlessly-hit balls will mostly be caught by the opposing team. The flight distance of the ball is influenced by timing and further factors. You might find the following “set screws” of a swing useful to obtain a positive effect on the flight distance of the ball: n n n

Make use of the horse’s dynamics, e.g. increase speed. Optimize technique and make the mallet head get to a higher speed by improving timing and performing more backswing. Ride your horse correctly towards the ball before you hit and strike in an optimal position to the horse.

For a good timing you should start with hitting a resting ball in walk. When you have found your rhythm and timing in walking pace you can start practicing at a trot and later at a gallop. With this stepwise alignment of your training goals you will gain a sense of proportion and precision. You should only start practicing with a moving ball when you are able to exactly control distance and flight direction of the resting ball.

Tips from the Pro n

Practicing with a dead ball is of advantage as you can ride towards the ball in an optimal position to the horse and then briefly slow down the backswing. The ball “waits” to be hit.


Try to start the ball with the highest possible speed in order to achieve a long distance.


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Flight Direction – Ball Position The way the horse is positioned to the ball influences the flight direction of the ball. Simplified, you could say: nn nn nn

If the ball is struck in front of the horse’s leg, it will show a tendency to fly to the left. If it is struck on the level of the stirrups, it will fly straight forward. If it is struck behind the level of the stirrups, it will show a tendency to fly to the right.

Orientation of the Mallet Head at the Moment of Impact You can angle or cut any swing. Here, you would talk of opening or closing a swing. With angling or cutting we denote the degree of angulation the ball is hit off the horse. Therefore, the horse’s horizontal axis serves as a basic line. A straight shot has a degree angle of 0/180; it is hit parallel to the horse’s horizontal axis. Angulating is for example necessary as soon as the player has the target diagonally ahead or is not able to ride towards the ball in an optimal angle in certain situations. For a slight angulation a twist of the wrist at impact will be sufficient, so the face of the mallet is also angled. If you want to hit the ball off the horse in a wide angle you will have to change the swing level of your swing.


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Tips from the Pro n

The direction of travel of the ball depends on the position of the ball to the horse and on the position (angulation) of the hitting surface at the moment of impact.


The speed of the ball is always more important than the horse’s speed. Always treat the horse’s resources and power with care.


Confidence and sense of proportion can be obtained by steady practicing.


In order to learn a new motion sequence precisely, it is recommended to practice the precise technique slowly and to set yourself realistic stepwise goals.


It is better to master correctly the technique of one hit than several badly.


In order to learn one technique, you will have to repeat it several thousand times.


Ingrain the motion sequences on the pictures, visualize them and perform practice swings with a walking stick but without a ball.


Hit practice swings at the beginning of each training session as warming-up; practice short swing distances and perform them deliberately slowly.


In Argentina, it is common to have children practice their first swings standing on the ground before they learn to ride on horseback.


Even professional players consistently do ground exercises.


Listen to the sound during impact; you can tell a properly hit ball from its sound.


Try to ride towards the ball as precisely as possible, and take care not to foul your opponent!


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The Swing from Horseback The Three Steps of the Polo Swing from Motion This chapter covers the transferring of the swing technique you have learned standing on the ground to sitting on horseback. In principle, the swing movement is performed analogously to the exercises you have learned with the walking stick. When hitting, the player changes from the half-seat into the hitting position. The swing from the horseback has to be phased according to the horse’s movements, momentum, beat and rhythm. So you must especially take into consideration the timing of the swing according to the different paces. From Half-Seat to Hitting Position To recap: In order to reduce thrust on the horse’s back and obtain a better balance himself, the player rises up from the saddle and bends slightly forward to harmonize his center of gravity with that of the horse. It is important to have your buttocks in a stable position over the saddle and have your upper body float almost parallel to the horse’s neck. At this time, your back should be straight. The role of the legs is a stabilizing one here; together with the horseman’s weight, they guide and control the horse. The position of your lower legs is of crucial relevance in the polo seat and especially in the hitting position. This is the reason why you should watch the position of your lower legs before rising up to the half-seat and hitting position. They should be bent somewhat backwards behind the girth, with the knees bent at the flap. In a polo player’s terminology this would be known as “bend the knee”. From this position bend slightly forward, lift your weight off the saddle and rise up a bit. If you keep your legs straight, you will not find any balance in your saddle. In the hitting position the horseman’s knees are bent; lower and upper legs represent an angle of almost 90 degrees.


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The Three Steps of the Polo Swing from Horseback

1 Basic Position

The swing begins in half seat, the mallet is held in a balanced position.

2 Backswing

The arm is moved back, the eyes are fixed on the ball, and the weight is shifted to the right.

3 Hitting and Follow-Through

At the moment of impact the arm is extended. Gaze, arm and mallet are in one line. The mallet hits the ball at the sweet spot.


Body tension plays a decisive role at the end of the backswing. The body should be tensed to its maximum and this tension only released with the downswing and the moment of impact. The eyes focus on the bottom half of the ball, the left shoulder aims at the ball.

During the downswing, the player’s knee rolls over the knee roll (“bend the knee”), lower and upper legs represent an angle of almost 90 degrees, the lower leg is bent behind the girth and the ball of the foot is pushed down in the stirrups.


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Tips from the Pro n

Practice the hitting position as a dry run, without hitting, but with steering your horse.


Practice the hitting position in different gaits, primarily in walk!


Position your legs first, then stand up.


Bend your knees with the help of the position of your lower legs. Imagine having a coin between knee and flap.


Develop a feeling of how far you have to retract your lower legs and bend your upper body forwards to be balanced.

Directly after the moment of impact, the arm remains extended and the eyes fix the ground. Imagine that mallet head and ball are connected with twine and the flying ball drags the mallet along.

The swing ends in the half-seat position, i.e. the player’s weight is shifted from the saddle. The mallet is ready for action immediately. Now the eyes are fixed ahead.


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The Influence of the Horse’s Dynamics The Polo Swing from a Halting Horse You will swing from a halting horse when, for example, you are being interfered with, in free hits or in throw-ins. The swing must obtain power and speed from your shoulder rotation. Therefore, you must adopt the hitting position in order to be capable of sufficiently rotating with the hips and body. The Polo Swing from a Walking Horse For warming-up the horse and horseman, or in penalties, you might swing from the walk. Pay attention to the horse’s rhythm and foot fall, and try to ride straight towards the ball – this is often more difficult than doing it at high speed. When swinging, again always adopt the hitting position. In walk you will only be able to make use of the horse’s power transmission to a minor extent, i.e. a good deal more shoulder rotation is needed analogously to the swing from a halting horse. The amount of movement needed is higher than that with swings at high speed. Pay attention to correct timing. In most cases you have enough time in walk to prepare for the swing. In walk, you can ideally practice and train the precision and rhythm of your swing. The Polo Swing in Trot and Gallop In gallop in particular one can make the maximum possible use of the horse’s dynamics. Here, you should keep in mind the following:

Benefit from the horse’s motion sequences of left-lead gallop for nearside swings and right- lead gallop for offside swings, for example penalties.


Practice change of speeds and the polo player’s typical upward and downward movement.


Practice swinging with the galloping phase and tune your timing.


Go straight on when you miss the ball; do not stop immediately.


Try to gallop rhythmically and control the gallop jumps.


The Polo Swing in Fast Gallop Even in fast gallop sprint you should be able to control your horse and check it immediately before the swing during the game, i.e. take up the reins. The horse will gallop like a racing horse in a very stretched posture, which means you should shift your center of gravity further forward. Following an overview of the full-swing offside-forward in walk and gallop. 81

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The Polo Swing in Walk

The Polo Swing in Trot

The Polo Swing in Gallop


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The Polo Shots There are many variants of a polo swing alongside the full-swing offside-forward. The ball can be hit in almost any position to the horse. Depending on nomenclature you can find eight to ten main variants. In the preceding chapters the full-swing offside-forward was considered. A brief summary on it is given below. Afterwards, we will discuss and explain in words and pictures further variants of the swing as well as their characteristics. Forward swings are swings which are struck in the horse’s direction of movement. Backs (backwards) are hit in the opposite direction of the horse’s movement. Straight hit balls are balls which are hit in or directly against the direction of movement of the horse, parallel to the horse’s horizontal axis. Open hit balls are hit at an angle to the horse’s horizontal axis.

Below is an overview of the hitting variants:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.

Offside forward Offside back Offside back open Nearside forward Nearside back Nearside back open Under the neck Tail

With regards to the hitting types and the description of the hits, the following sequence should be observed: 1. Hitting type (full-swing or half-swing) 2. Horse/hitting side (nearside or offside) 3. Hitting direction (forward or back) 4. Orientation (straight or open) Note: If part of the sequence is omitted, one can assume the following: No. 1 not specified → full-swing, No. 4 not specified → straight.


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The 3-Steps of the Offside Forward with the Walking Stick

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through


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Offside Forward Direction of the mallet head/Direction of swing In the horse’s moving direction, the mallet head travels clockwise; you should imagine trying to hit the ball with the palm of your hand. Orientation of the mallet head/Position of the hitting surface on impact The mallet head is swung almost parallel to the horse’s body. The flight direction of the ball is without angulation, i.e. the hitting surface stands in a 90-degree angle to the horse’s horizontal axis. Body and shoulder rotation In the backswing movement the shoulder rotates clockwise around the vertical axis and should be parallel to the line of the ball before the downswing begins. Gaze/Eyes Eyes are on the ball; gaze is fixed on the lower half of the ball. Position of the ball at the moment of impact The ball is hit level with the player’s stirrups.

Description The full-swing offside-forward is said to be one of the most powerful swings and should be mastered by every player.


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Offside Back Direction of the mallet head/Direction of swing The swing is performed anti-clockwise and hit in the opposite direction of the horse’s movement. You should imagine trying to hit the ball with the back of your hand. Orientation of the mallet head/Position of the hitting surface on impact The mallet is head is swung almost parallel to the horse’s body. The flight direction of the ball is without angulation. Body and shoulder rotation During backswing and top of the swing: Point to the ball with your right elbow. On the downswing, have your shoulders rotate rightwards in the direction of the horse’s tail. Gaze/Eyes As with full-swing offside-forward, you must fix your gaze on the lower part of the ball; the chin points downwards. However, the player looks at the ball over his right shoulder and along his right forearm. Position of the ball at the moment of impact Ideally level with the horse’s flank. Description The back shot is the countermovement to the forward shot. It is a technically demanding swing. The backswing starts at the point the forward swing ends. The player’s right forearm is slightly angled at the beginning of the backswing and runs parallel to the horse’s neck. During the backswing the player’s weight is shifted to the right with the upper part of the body slightly bent forward. The backswing is an over-head movement with the arm staying angled and the gaze fixed on the ball. Here the hand describes a semicircle to the right and rotates like an airscrew over your head. At this semicircle the mallet tilts from the vertical to the horizontal position. The downswing should only be begun when elbow, hand and mallet are at the same level/swinging plane. During the downswing the right shoulder turns in the direction of the horse’s tail, the upper part of the body rotates, and the arm is dropped. On impact the arm must always be straightened. Impact should be at the very same moment that the right shoulder, arm, mallet and ball are in a line.


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The 3-Steps of the Offside Back with the Walking Stick

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through


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The mallet, or rather the wrist, is not twisted during the swing – you should imagine trying to hit the ball with the back of your hand. The vital second part of the swing is the follow-through. You should hit the back either as an open back (open) or as a tail (closed). In doing so, you open a new line which you or your teammates can follow and play. If the back is performed too straight it will quite possibly hit the opponent, who then has the right of way and is able to follow his line, which he will certainly make use of. After a back shot you can take two possible decisions. If the swing was successful, you will turn as quickly as possible and continue playing in the “train”. If you missed the ball, you will have to grasp the new game situation. Most of the time the playing direction will not turn after a missed strike and you can go on following the line and/or your teammates.

Tips from the Pro n

The learning process is different from that of the full-swing: Try to learn and apply one part of the swing first (as shown in the pictures), and forego the uncontrolled rotating of the mallet over your head. .


Do not forget: The writing on the mallet head must be visible to you at all times.


Pay attention to checkpoints: Elbow and arm are always straightened in hitting and follow-through!


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The 3-Steps of the Offside Back Open with the Walking Stick

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through


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Offside Back Open Direction of the mallet head/Direction of swing The swing is performed anti-clockwise and hit in the opposite direction of the horse’s movement. You should imagine trying to hit the ball with the back of your hand. Orientation of the mallet head/Position of the hitting surface on impact The swing is angled; make sure the ball is struck at as wide an angulation as possible. Body and shoulder rotation Point to the ball with your right elbow during the top of the swing, have your shoulders rotate rightwards on the backswing. Gaze/Eyes As with full-swing offside-forward, you must fix your gaze on the lower part of the ball, the chin points downwards; however, the player looks at the ball over his right shoulder and along his right forearm (not inside the bodyline). Position of the ball at the moment of impact Ideally level with the horse’s right forearm. Description The back should be hit at an ample angulation off the horse’s body. After an offside back open you should get used to turning your horse around to the left in order to follow the line of the ball and your own right of way.


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Nearside Forward Direction of the mallet head/Direction of swing The swing is performed anti-clockwise and hit in the direction of the horse’s movement. Orientation of the mallet head/Position of the hitting surface on impact Parallel to the horse’s body, without angulation. Body and shoulder rotation On the backswing: Rotate your shoulder leftwards around the vertical axis of your body. The upper part of the body rotates to the left on the backswing, your right arm crosses over your left hand until your right hand touches your left shoulder (palm points to your left shoulder). Gaze/Eyes As with full-swing offside-forward, you must fix your gaze on the lower part of the ball; the eyes glance at the right shoulder and are directed downwards. Position of the ball at the moment of impact Level with the horse’s left forearm.

Description This swing resembles the tennis backhand. In order to perform this swing precisely, you need a lot of practice and a proper balance on horseback, as the player’s weight is almost completely shifted to the left leg. The right arm crosses over the left one and the shoulders turn to the left side around the spine on the backswing. Imagine yourself holding a bucket full of road salt with your left hand and trying to spread the salt with your right hand to the left-hand side of your body. At the end of the backswing the cane should be vertical and the right wrist nearly touches the left shoulder, the grip remains unaltered, and the palm of your hand points to your body and shoulder. As with the offside forward, the player’s gaze is on the ball, and zooms in on its lower half. The body is tensed at the top of the swing and is ready for the downswing. This position marks the beginning of the downswing, in the course of which the arm is straightened. The mallet head describes a downturn, swinging off the horse’s flank. At the moment of impact, the arm, wrist and mallet are in one line. Imagine yourself trying to hit the ball with the back of your hand. You will need this shot when ridden off from your offside.


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The 3-Steps of the Nearside Forward with the Walking Stick

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through

What is it that makes the nearside forward swing so difficult? With regards to the hitting power, the nearside forward is said to be one of the weakest swings, because hip and shoulder rotation is more limited for the player than in other swings. The right arm and the left arm work against each other (the right arm has to cross the left one, which has to guide the horse). The right arm wants to return to its natural position (to the right) as quickly as possible. For this reason, there is a danger of turning the mallet head to the right, which quite often results in nearside forward shot balls tending to fly to the right. The follow-through must therefore be performed as precisely as possible.


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Tips from the Pro n

Try to move your right shoulder as far as possible around over the left arm and rotate your upper body to the left as far as possible.


Watch the position of the mallet head at the moment of impact most carefully. Imagine you want to hit the ball with the back of your hand and avoid twisting your wrist.


You should be able to swipe the grass when performing exercise swings. Check if the length of your mallet is correct! Choose the length you would need for hitting nearside swings instead of offside swings.


Check the length of your stirrups: Are they short enough to allow you a sufficient clockwise rotation?


The left leg has to be near to the horse’s body so that the horse stays in position. Otherwise the horse will misunderstand your command and try to turn left. In order to avoid this and to keep better balanced, you should proceed as follows. Lay your hand on the horse’s neck, allowing the horse’s head to look to the right just a little bit (not more; from the basic position you should be able to see the shimmer of its right eye only). Then shift weight into the left stirrup and yet keep your pony steady with your left leg. This is most important in order not to ride across the line of the ball and commit a foul!


When you are shifting weight, try the following: Push the left stirrup (or rather the left calf) slightly forward and take back the right lower leg, with the heel pushed down deeply, and fix yourself at the saddle with the help of your right knee.


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The 3-Steps of the Nearside Back with the Walking Stick

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through


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Nearside Back Direction of the mallet head/Direction of swing The swing is performed clockwise and hit in the opposite direction of the horse’s movement. Orientation of the mallet head/Position of the hitting surface on impact Parallel to the horse’s body, without angulation. Body and shoulder rotation Rotation to the left during the downswing movement. Gaze/Eyes Directed to the ball, the gaze is fixed on the lower half of the ball. Position of the ball at the moment of impact Level with the back/rear part of the saddle (cantle). Description The nearside back is a powerful swing. It starts as if you wanted to shift weight to the left. In the backswing the mallet is raised over the player’s head by moving your arm up; the elbow stays angled and the grip does not change either. At the same time the right shoulder rotates to the left. Now the extending arm is directed downwards to the left side (nearside). Imagine yourself trying to hit the ball with the palm of your hand. The shoulder rotates counter-clockwise around the spine. Get accustomed to watching the ball long enough after the nearside back and pretend that a photographer is standing behind you and wanting to take a photo. Nearside backs should also be hit as open or tail.


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The 3-Steps of the Nearside Back Open with the Walking Stick

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through


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Nearside Back Open Direction of the mallet head/Direction of swing The swing is performed clockwise and hit in the opposite direction of the horse’s movement. Orientation of the mallet head/Position of the hitting surface on impact The swing is angled; make sure the ball is struck at as wide an angulation as possible. Body and shoulder rotation Rotation to the left during the downswing movement. Gaze/Eyes Directed to the ball, the gaze is fixed on the lower half of the ball. Position of the ball at the moment of impact Ideally level with the horse’s wither. Description The ball position as well as the angulation of the mallet head (orientation of the head) are of decisive importance in open and tail swings. For a distinctive angulation the swing level must be altered, i.e. the angulation must be set in the backswing phase already.


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The 3-Steps of the Under the Neck with the Walking Stick

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through


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Under the Neck (Nearside or Offside) Direction of the mallet head/Direction of swing The mallet swings under the horse’s neck from the left to the right or from the right to the left. Orientation of the mallet head/Position of the hitting surface on impact The swing is angled; this orientation of the mallet is obtained by twisting the shoulder in your backswing. Body and shoulder rotation For under-the-neck shots the player has to lean out of the saddle extremely. The shoulder sets the downswing in motion. Position of the ball at the moment of impact In front of the horse’s right or left forearm, level with the horse’s breast. Gaze/Eyes Directed to the ball, the gaze is fixed on the lower half of the ball. Description The ball is hit under the horse’s neck from the left to the right or vice versa. The ball is level with the horse’s breast or slightly to the right or to the left of it. It is essential to have the shoulder rotate properly. The player has to lean out of the saddle extremely and yet not lose his balance. The neck shot can also be performed from nearside to offside.


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The 3-Steps of the Tail-Shot with the Walking Stick

1 Basic Position

2 Backswing

3 Hitting and Follow-Through

Tips from the Pro n

Start hitting as early as possible and try to strike the ball in the correct position. This will provide you with enough time to rotate your body sufficiently so you can use the horse’s power together with this rotation.


Twist the mallet head shortly before impact and you will give the ball a spin.


At all costs, continue moving with your horse and do not stop, otherwise your horse might get hurt from the ball and you will not be able to exploit the horse’s momentum.


Pay attention to performing the follow-through properly and bend your torso slightly to the horse’s neck. With the help of this motion your shoulder will rotate a little bit more.


When you practice tail swings, all four of the horse’s legs should be protected!


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Tail (Nearside or Offside) Direction of the mallet head/Direction of swing The swing is always performed opposite to the horse’s direction of movement and the mallet is cut behind the horse. Orientation of the mallet head/Position of the hitting surface on impact The mallet head is twisted, the hit is angled. Body and shoulder rotation As with the respective back shots. Gaze/Eyes Directed to the ball, the gaze is fixed on the lower half of the ball. Position of the ball at the moment of impact Level with the horse’s hock. Description The swing is performed with the objective of cutting the ball behind the horse. This effect is achieved by twisting the wrist at the moment of impact. The tail shot is one of the most important defensive hits. The nearside tail is one of the most challenging swings. You will often wish for a short-backed pony and for a very long arm. As most people own neither the former nor the latter, our “Tips from the Pro“ might help.


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Tap, Tapping The ball is dribbled forwards or sidewards with short strikes. You do this without the complete swinging movement and turn and reverse by twisting your wrist. In tapping, the arm must be extended and represent an extension of the mallet. Mostly, the balls are hit on the level of the horse’s forearms or even further ahead. Dribbled hits are shots at a very short distance and are quite unstable.

half-Swing The half-swing is used with short hits. You can perform it to spoil hooks, or rather to clear the ball in hooking. In this situation your arm should not be raised higher than your shoulder, though the mallet can definitely be higher. The angulation between forearm and mallet is the same as with the full-swing.

Tips from the Pro n

The more firmly you have control of the swings, the more often your teammates will pass the ball to you.


Therefore, remember it is better to be capable of properly performing just a few of them – first of all the full-swing offside-forward – than poorly performing many swings and having a low hit rate.


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maneuvers and Penalties The following chapter will provide information on two of the most important defensive strategies in polo – sticking and riding-off – as well as the basic principle of the game – the lining up, i.e. playing in a polo train.

The Hook Correct Technique and Official Rules Hooking another player, i.e. the opponent, is only allowed when the ball is positioned between the two horses. So it will be a foul if a player (A) tries a nearside shot and the opponent tries to interfere with his mallet by reaching underneath or over the horse, thus preventing A from hitting the ball. The Attacking Player’s Role When hooking, you should try to hit your opponent’s cane about five centimeters above the mallet head. To do so, it is helpful to focus on this point of the cane at the moment your opponent starts his backswing. Hooking starts in the very moment that the opponent’s mallet swings down and you try to hit his mallet at the point focused on. If the opponent swings offside-forward you will have to hook nearside-back and vice versa. Hooking is most effective when performed with the respective counter-swing. De facto, you will see that the hooking motion is often performed with a half-swing. This may be for two reasons. The first is if the mallet is not held in a correct position and thus a full-swing at the right time is not possible. The second is that hooking is often performed prematurely and too hastily. Here you should keep in mind: Starting a hook will still be effective even if you are two horses’ distance behind your opponent. The Defender’s Role The defending player can try to avoid the opponent’s stroke and release the ball by tapping or executing a half-swing.


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the Bump and ride-Off Correct Technique and Rules You can ride off your opponent, even if he is not in possession of the ball. Exceptions to this rule include hit-ins and some other penalties, which prevail on the defender to keep a distance of 30 yards. The intent in riding-off is to move an opponent away from the line of the ball, or to avert his right of way, or even to take an important playmaker out of the game. Of course it is essential here not to commit any fouls. Sandwiches are forbidden, i.e. a player can be ridden off from one side only. The Attacking Player’s Role A bump can be started only if the horses move parallel to each other in the same direction at the same speed. At the time of collision the angle you approach your opponent at must not be greater than 45 degrees. Try to place your knee in front of your opponent’s knee. From this position the opponent is moved off, i.e. pushed aside. This is similar to a body check in rugby. This maneuver is used for both defense and attack (in defense to push away someone from the line of the ball and during an attack to keep the opponent at arm’s length and thus follow the line, or rather to clear the line for the teammates following). The Defender’s Role The defending player will either try to contain the attack or to provoke a foul. This will be possible if the attacked player has the right of way on the line of the ball. By stopping the horse he can try to have the defender get caught in a foul. In other words: If the attacking player reacts too slowly to this stop and if he crosses the line of the ball, he will have committed a foul.

Tips from the Pro n

Hooking itself should never involve flailing around but should be a sound stroke on the opponent’s mallet.


If you do not get into the habit of taking the man out of the game you will easily get hooked yourself.


While hooking, make sure you have a stable seat and your legs embrace the horse’s barrel, so that you are wellbalanced and able to keep the horse’s speed.


While riding off keep in view the opponent’s rein hand and react analogously to his actions so as not to get caught in a provoked foul by directly riding into it! 111

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The Train Proper polo is played in line. The responsibilities within a team are assigned as follows: Players number 1 and 2 are responsible for attack, player number 3 should be the highest handicapped player, technically strong, and move in midfield, whereas player number 4 is valuable in defense. During an attack, player number 1 should position himself in such a way as to be capable of converting his teammates’ long balls. The rest of the players follow number 1, forming a row. Excellently positioned players equal a train with its locomotive and three coaches. Playing in a polo train has these advantages: nn nn


If a player misses the ball, the next one behind him can pass the ball. If a player within his train is pressed by an opponent, he will be able to keep the line clear by riding off and the player behind him can follow the line. Maintaining the image of riding within a train will avoid players of the same team from riding side by side.

So that this train is not disconnected, you should turn as soon as you have missed the ball (without crossing the line of the ball and right of way!) and line up along the back end of the train. Thus the game stays in progress and you can support the attack of your team. In defense you should try to spoil the opposing team’s attack by either riding off or sticking.

Throw-In, Line-Up Each polo game begins with a throw-in. For this, the teams line up facing each other at midline. This is what is denoted as a line-up. The umpire throws the ball in between the two teams and thus the ball is in play. Throw-ins can also be executed from other points of the field. The umpire will throw the ball into the field if it is hit over the boards or side line, after a foul or after a timeout (caused by a ball plunged in the ground by the horses’ hooves for example). After each goal, ends are changed and another throw-in is performed.

Hit-In A hit-in from the goal line is awarded if the ball is hit out by the attacking side behind the goal line. The ball should be placed on the goal line where it crossed the line. With the hit-in, the attacking team must not be nearer than the 30-yard line. The ball may only be hit after the umpire calls “Play”.


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Fouls and Penalties Fouls Fouls are mostly penalized as free hits for the other team. If a foul is awarded, game and time will be stopped and the umpires will take into account the degree of penalty. If they are of different opinions, the third man (referee) will make the final decision. Penalties Penalties are free hits on the goal. Depending on the degree of the foul, there are different distances to the goal a free hit can be given from. In international polo there are ten varying penalties. Under the rules of the Hurlingham Polo Association, only eight penalties are currently applied in Europe: Penalty 1 - Penalty Goal Penalty 2 - Hit from the Spot or 30 Yard Hit Penalty 3 - 40 Yard Hit - Defended Penalty 4 - 60 Yard Hit - Defended Penalty 5(a) - Hit from the Spot Penalty 5(b) - Hit from the Center Penalty 6 - Safety 60 - Defended Penalty 7 - Throw-In Penalty 10 - Player Sent Off


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Final Tips Listed below are some typical problems and mistakes which occur in playing polo. nn

The mallet is grabbed and held incorrectly.


The chosen mallet is too long.


The grip is changed at the backswing.


The horseman sits too far “inside the horse�.


Sticking is done by performing a half-swing instead of a full-swing.


Stick and ball training does not follow any method.


Player stops or turns abruptly if the ball is missed and thus commits an infringement of the right of way.


The arm performs the swing instead of the shoulder.

Pay active attention to avoiding these mistakes, and follow the following tips!


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Tips for the Stick and Ball Training nn

Make a training plan, concentrate on following your targets.


Start every training session with the walking stick. Start with hits in walk before you change to a slow and rhythmic gallop, which allows you to hit in a slow and controlled manner.


Practice aiming and hitting certain distances.


Have your eye/gaze on the ball during hitting and follow-through. Train without a ball and try to aim at “imaginary balls” like leaves. This will help you to keep your gaze on the floor and your head down, because you won’t expect these things to “fly”.

Work constantly on your swing and the stability of your swing. This will help your body to use its muscle memory during matches.


Imagine playing situations, practice passing balls to teammates.


Try to practice with a teammate as often as possible.


Practice full-swing instead of half-swing.


Install goal posts in the middle of the field, so you can aim at the goal from two sides.


Practice penalty shots and shots from different angles to the goal as you will need them during matches.


Practice controlling your horse and keeping balance during acceleration and stops.


Practice back shots followed by stopping and turning. Pay attention to not crossing the line of the ball and try to handle your horse as gently as possible.



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Tips for the Match Before the Game Starts

Warm up before you go on the horse: Carefully stretch shoulder girdle, abdominal and hip musculature. Practice with your walking stick before each game.


On the horse: Perform controlled, conscious and slow swings to warm up your muscles!


Meet your team and discuss strategy. Also settle on clear commands within the team.


Choose the ponies purposefully. A suggestion would be: For the first chukka: The most reli- able/easiest to handle. For the last chukka: The fastest.


During the Game nn

Save your and your horse’s energy and power. Make use of the speed of the ball.


Learn from the pros: Always concentrate on the current situation and your next move. Don’t get upset about missed balls, fouls or umpires’ decisions.


Keep an eye on your pony’s energy and joy of playing. Change horse if you feel that it is get- ting tired.

After each Chukka, after the Match nn

Discuss after each chukka if the strategy is to be kept or changed.


Analyze your game and learn from your mistakes. If possible, have the games filmed.


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EPILOGUE Finally, to say it in Hermann Hesse’s words, “All knowledge and every increase in our knowledge doesn’t end with a period, but rather with a question mark”. We hope we could bring out and illustrate some basic aspects of the sport of polo in pictures as well as in written text and turn some of your question marks into exclamation marks.

To be continued.... Santiago Schweitzer and Barbara Schütz


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Glossary AACCP

Short form for: Asociación Argentina Criadores de Caballo de Polo; the Argentine Associa- tion of Polo Pony Breeders.


Short form for: Asociación Argentina de Polo; the Argentine Association of Polo Clubs and Players.

Acceleration of the Stick Head

The speed of the stick head affects the flight of the ball. The spin of the ball is boosted by the speed of the stick head.

Air Shot

A strike/hit and a miss.

Axis of the body a = depth axis, i.e. horizontal axis; this is the axis which refers to the main direction of movement. b = longitudinal axis, i.e. vertical axis; it passes through the body from top to bottom. c = width or transverse axis. The point marks the resting body’s center of gravity.


Back and Forward

Back (against) and forward (in) the travelling direction of the horse.

Balance, Equilibrium, Equalizing Ball Speed

These three terms represent the ability to control the inactive or active body in a way to keep its equilibrium. Balance is also denoted as equalization.

Bandages, Wraps

Polo bandages are used to protect the horse’s lower leg. They should be secured with stripes or tape to avoid losing them during the match.

Barrel, Body of Horse, Rib Cage

The conformation of a horse should provide a big rib cage for enough space for big lungs. The center of gravity should be close to the floor.

Bell Boots

Attached to the horse’s ankle to protect the back of the pastern, the heels and the coronet of the hoof. Bell boots should prevent injuries when the horse is overreaching or stepped on by another horse during the match.

Bell, Chukkabell

A bell is rung at the end of each chukker.

Best Playing Pony

Award for the best horse of a tournament.

At the moment of impact the ball can already have its own speed or is transferred a speed of its own because of momentum change. When an inactive ball is hit you call it a “Dead Ball” (e.g. in a hit-in).


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Mouthpiece of the bridle, goes into the horse’s mouth, resting on the bars (space between the horse’s teeth).


The bridle includes the headpiece that holds the bit that goes in the mouth of a horse, and the reins that are attached to the bit.

Brushing Boots, Tendon Boots, Protectors

Gear/tack for protecting the horse’s lower legs.

Bump, Bumping, Riding Off

There are two basic defense techniques allowed in polo: The hook and the bump. The bump is also called ride-off. This is similar to a body-check in rugby. It is used to move an opposing player off the line of the ball, or to spoil his shot. This is done while colliding an opponent to lead him away from the ball. This is only allowed when the angle of collision is not greater than 45 degrees.

C Cancha

Spanish for polo field.


Part of the polo stick.

Center of Gravity

An object’s center of mass is called its center of gravity. Various activities of the same body (e.g. running, weight stabilizing) move its center of gravity. It changes with every sideward, forward or backward movement.


Also chukker, chucker. Time period in polo. There are four to eight chukkas in a polo match. A chukka usually lasts seven minutes plus 30 seconds extra time. The last chukka always ends after seven minutes. A bell indicates the end of a chukka.

Chukkabell, Game Clock

Indicates the end of a chukka.

Cigar, Cigar Head

The most popular head used for polo sticks is the cigar pattern.


A horse race, breed. The typical horses used on Argentine farms/estancias.

D Dead Ball Dropband

If the ball goes out it is considered a dead ball; also a ball which is not moving. Part of the tie-down martingale; noseband.


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The hitting surface of the mallet.


The expression “follow-through” denotes the phase immediately before and after the impact.

Foot Mallet

Short polo mallet for practicing on the ground.

Forward and Back

Forward swings are performed in the horse’s direction of travel while backswings (also called backs or backward swings) send the ball in the opposite direction of the horse’s movement.

Full-Swing and Half-Swing

Full-swing defines the fully performed polo swing. Here, the head comprises a swing of a 360-degree angle. According to this, half-swing is defined as half of a fully performed swing. Performing a half-swing, the lifted mallet should not be higher than the player’s shoulder and the head does not comprise more than a 180-degree angle.


Pony and player correctly and completely fitted for the match.

G Goal

Two goal posts which are set eight yards apart, centered at each end of the field, indicate the goals. A goal is scored if the ball is hit between the goal posts, no matter how high in the air.


Safety glasses. Also available for horses.


Part of the polo stick.


A person who looks after horses. The groom is responsible for the horse’s welfare, training and tacking of an owner’s horses/player’s string.

H Half-Seat

A type of riding seat. In the half-seat position, the rider’s seat bones are lifted out of the saddle. For hitting, the player changes into the hitting position and is standing in the stirrups. This helps to isolate the rider’s upper body from the motion of the horse, and to allow the rider’s hips to rotate as the rider hits or turns sideways in order to swing the mallet on the nearside.


Wrong technique for holding a polo stick.


Short form for Handicap; polo players are rated on a scale from -2 to +10. Starter or novice players start with -2. A handicap commission rates the player’s performance and usually modifies the handicaps twice a year. The highest handicap possible is +10 goals. 127

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Part of the bridle.


The size of a horse, measured at the withers.

Hitting Position

A type of riding seat. See also: Half-Seat.

Hook, Hooking

While hooking, the player uses the mallet to block or interfere with an opponent’s swing by hooking the mallet of the other player with their own mallet. A player may only hook if he is on the side where the swing is being made or directly in front or behind an opponent. For example, a player cannot reach over the mount of another player for hooking.


The skill in riding, managing or training horses, the art of handling horses.


Short form for Hurlingham Polo Association. The HPA is the governing body of polo in the UK, Ireland and many other countries throughout the world.


The moment of the stick head striking the ball is called impact. From the mechanic point of view an impulse change follows.

Impingement Angle

The impingement angle comprises the angle between head and ball at the moment of impact. It affects how high and how far the ball will go and depends very much on the alignment of the stick head.

Impulse Change

A moving object which hits another object or is slowed down by it causes impulse change.

K Knee Roll


Part of the polo saddle.

Knock-In, Hit-In

If the ball goes wide of the goal or goal line the ball is brought back into the game with a so- called “knock-in”. The defending team knocks-in from the place where the ball crossed the goal line.

Line of the Ball (LOB)

The line of the ball is an imaginary line. It is formed each time the ball is struck.

Line Up

Every game begins with the two teams lining up, forming two rows with the players. Both teams are facing the umpire in the center of the playing field.


Short form for: Line of the Ball.


See: String.


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M Martingale, standing N Nearside and Offside

As most people are right-handed, you would traditionally approach a horse from its left and perform activities like tacking up, saddling or mounting from this side. Therefore, the nearside is the horse’s left and the offside is the horse’s right. This terminology has been adapted to polo.


An indirect rein aid. The horse responds to a neck rein when it has learned that a light pressure of the left rein against its neck on that side means for the horse to turn right, and vice versa.

O Offside and Nearside


A tie-down martingale.

See: Nearside and Offside.

Open, Away Shots

The ball is cut away from the horse’s body at angles; referencing the position of the mallet head, the shot will be cut or travel away from the horse.

Orientation of the Mallet Head

Orientation of the stick head is referred to as alignment of the head (to the ball, etc.).

Out of the Horse, Out of the Pony, Inside the Horse

If riding in the 2-Point or half-seat, the rider is more or less standing in the stirrups, reducing weight on the horse’s back. The rider is staying out of the horse’s way and gives the horse the most freedom to use its body. Also the player is able to use his own body for striking. See also: Half-Seat.


An additional girth to secure the polo saddle.


A free hit awarded to the fouled, numbered from 1 to 10, from a set distance determined by the severity of the foul committed.

Pistol Grip, Revolver Grip

Correct technique for holding the polo stick.

Polo Ball

A white wooden or plastic ball with a diameter of approximately 9 cm and a weight of 130 g. Balls made of plastic or leather are used for arena polo or polo events on sand, snow or ice.

Polo Field

The polo field is approximately 300 yards long by 160-200 yards (with and without boards) wide.

Polo Horse, Polo Pony

Horses used in polo. Often called ‘polo ponies‘, although the horses are usually full-sized horses. The term pony is purely traditional. 129

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Polo Sport

Team game played on horseback.

Polo Swing

Hitting in polo is also called “polo swing” or “swing” and can be done from almost every side of the horse (talking about a zone of a 360-degree angle), no matter if it is performed with or against the horse’s direction of movement.


Part of the saddle.


Ponying is leading a horse while riding another horse. In polo you will often see grooms riding one horse and leading up to five other horses.


Place where horses are prepared before matches and changed during matches.

Practice Chukker

Chukkers organized for practicing. If organized by a polo club often called “Club Chukker”.

Practice Swing

A practice swing is the conscious performance of a swing without touching the ball. Practice swings are good for warming up, testing the distance between mallet and ground, etc. Also called a “rehearsal swing“.

R Referee


See: Umpire.


Part of the bridle. Connects rider’s hand with the bit and the headpiece.

Ride Off, Riding Off

See: Bump, Bumping.

Right of Way (ROW)

As soon as a player has the line of the ball on his right, he has the right of way (ROW). The ROW can be taken away by riding off.

R.N.P.A.; R.N.P.A. Head

Short form for: Royal Naval Polo Association; a stick head pattern patented by the Royal Naval Polo Association.

Roll-Back Turn, Rollback

Turning a horse after a stop without a halt; the horse is turned 180 degrees on its hindlegs.


Short form for right of way.

Skene, Skene Heads

Shape of stick heads used by Bob Skene, a retired legendary American 10-goal polo player.


Part of the polo mallet, a cotton sling attached to the stick’s grip. Helps to hold the stick and avoids losing it during maneuvers like hooking.

Standing Martingale

See: Martingale.


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See: Mallet.

Stick & Ball, Stick and Ball

Individual, personal practice time, to school player and horse.

Stick Head

Part of the polo stick.

Sticking, Hooking

See: Hook, Hooking.

Straight and Open

Straight hit balls are hit in or opposite to the direction parallel to the horse’s horizontal axis. Open balls are those which are hit at a certain angle to the horse (e.g. its horizontal axis).


The group of horses given for a player.

Studs, Shoe Studs Traction devices to prevent the horse from slipping and to support it during turning. Studs are screwed into the bottom of a horse shoe.


Sweet Spot

The sweet spot is the spot at the striking surface of the mallet head where the force is completely balanced out by the turning force of the mallet.


Spanish for stick, mallet.

Taco de Pie

Spanish for walking stick, foot mallet.

Third Man

Referee who is watching the match from outside the field. He decides in the event that the umpires cannot agree.


At the beginning of a game, or if a ball went wide over the sides of the field, one of the umpires throws the ball in hard between the two teams lined up.

Top of the Swing

End of the backswing.

Tournament, Match

Sportive contest.

Tritt In

Spectators are asked during the half-time of a match to go onto the field to participate in a polo tradition called “divot stamping“, which has developed to help flatten the mounds of earth (divots) that are torn up by the horses´ hooves. It also affords spectators the oppor- tunity to walk about and socialize.

U Umpire

W Walking Stick

Referees and umpires are the officials of the sport, and they have the authority to make decisions about the game. There are two mounted referees in polo and one umpire watching the match from the side of the field. A short polo stick for training on the ground. 131

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Team Line-Up Santiago Schweitzer – The Professional Personal details: Current polo handicap +6 in Argentina, professional polo player, polo instructor and manager of the Polo Match polo academy – Studies: Law, attorney at law. Santiago comes from a family of polo players and was born with a mallet in his hand. He has actively been playing polo since he was eleven and played a handicap of +3 at the age of seventeen. He currently holds a handicap of +6. He plays and played in Argentina, Costa Rica, Germany, Ecuador, Kenya, Mexico, Uruguay and Paraguay. The tournaments he has played include Copa Presidente Fundator Isaac de Oliveiry Cèsar (1994), Metropolitano Bajo Handicap (1995–1996), Copa Beguerie (1995–1996), Copa Amistad (1996), Copa Fernandez Sarua (1997), Copa Bartolomè Mitre (1998), Copa Estimulo (1998), Copa Jorge Sauze (1998), Torneo de Professionales Universitarios (2001, 2002, 2004), Copa Nestor Lupez (2007) and the Abierto de La Plata (2007). Alongside his active participation in tournaments he has been concentrating on training and coaching polo players. Together with his brother Fernando (handicap +4), he manages the polo academy Polo Match in Open Door, Buenos Aires. His polo philosophy: “For me, polo is both a passion and a profession. Polo is a large part of my life. It is my profession and my calling. My family and I have always been deeply rooted in the traditions of the sport of polo. Besides horse breeding we run the polo academy “Polo Match” near Buenos Aires. In “Polo Match” we organize training courses and tournaments. Special attention is paid to the polo players’ instruction and training. Polo is a sport which challenges both a player’s physical as well as his mental abilities. Unfortunately, the training lessons are often inappropriate to the wide range of all aspects of polo. Too often and after far too short a training period you can watch players appearing in tournaments who have knowledge of neither the basics of swinging nor of riding. As polo has gained popularity in the last few years it has nowadays become fairly easy to start playing. More and more farms and instructors offer polo lessons. However, the quantity says nothing about the quality offered. Our country breeds and brings into the market good quality polo ponies and, moreover, the world’s best players come from here. Thus we have a certain responsibility and we have to strive to keep up this level and to improve it even further.” Have fun and enjoy the book!


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Barbara Schütz – The Polo Horse Expert Personal details: Graduate engineer in agriculture, graduate of the Irish National Stud Thoroughbred Breeding and Management Course 2002 Involved in equestrian sports from her earliest childhood, Barbara specialized in horses and equestrian sports during her studies. Having achieved her diploma, she became assistant manager at the “Gestüt Isarland” thoroughbred stud farm on Lake Starnberg in Germany. Being a student of the Irish National Stud, she acquired profound knowledge of breeding and management and completed the “Irish National Stud Thoroughbred Breeding and Management Course 2002” with several honors. Barbara Schütz works in a department responsible for animals at a specialized insurance provider and advises on equestrian sports for the Allianz Group, among others. Since 2009, she has been the first and only Publicly Certified Expert for Polo Horses in Germany (appointed by the administrative district of Upper Bavaria). In addition to that, she writes articles about horses and horse-keeping for the polo magazine PACE. Moreover, she voluntarily supports and advises the German Polo Association in questions on animal welfare. Her polo philosophy: “For me, polo is a sport which began as a hobby and has become an integral part of my life. This sport, Argentina the country, and above all the horses have completely cast their spell over me. Polo is a complex, multi-layered and fascinating sport. For me, polo is an interaction of horse, sport, lifestyle, zest for life and adventure all rolled into one.”

Matthias Gruber – The Sports Photographer Personal details: Born 1967, lives near Munich His polo philosophy: “For me, polo is a fascinating combination of athletic skill, aesthetic and precision together with the team spirit between player and horse. And – last but not least – it is a real photographic challenge. I discovered Polo by chance. Actually, I just wanted to test a new camera for an upcoming event but the sport cast a spell over me immediately. Like in all high-speed sports, many details become visible only when frozen and captured in a split second. For instance, the sheer horse power, the dynamics of the players as well as technical finesse. Getting a good picture at a polo match is always a challenge. Apart from perfect lighting, the players and especially the horses should be displayed in decent action. A good knowledge about the game, its players, grooms and the horses is crucial to my work. The more you know, the easier you will get a good action shot or a nice picture of what‘s going on around a polo match. Collaboration on this book was a sort of training for my work as well and I`m sure that this will help me immensely for the upcoming seasons.”


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Angelika Aigner – The Creative Director Personal details: Polo player from Ising on Lake Chiemsee, media designer and owner of Lightconsulting GmbH. Angelika has been active in equestrian sports since childhood. Before switching to polo in 2006, she was at home in an eventing saddle. Here she achieved success up to performance class L with horses that she trained herself. Her polo philosophy: “Polo is for me a sporting equilibrium and a source of creative energy and ideas. Similar to eventing, with polo one experiences a perfect interaction between rider and horse. With polo I find an action-packed counterbalance to the turbulent family and business routine. At the same time, I free my mind in order to draw new creative energy.”

Michael Schölz – The Illustrator Personal details: Graduate engineer in landscape architecture His polo philosophy: “Polo is for me a wonderful example of an intensive interaction between man, animal and nature, dynamism and elegance, and power and energy. As a newcomer to polo I have so far only had a small insight into this sport, but through my work on this book I have already been able to understand some of the theoretical basics, which will now help me enormously in practice. I have been enthused by this sport since the first moment, and I have noticed how much I could transfer from my previous experience as a professional sportsman in martial arts and other sports such as mountain biking and slacklining. Inner and outer balance, an intensive battle with one’s own body, peace, anticipation and fast reaction times are aspects that man must demand from himself, as well as from the horse, in order to create a harmonic unit in the game. This combination of the perfectly coordinated athlete is the true fascination of this game.”


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special thanks Our particular thanks go to Daisy Freiin from DĂśrnberg, who provided her horse “Dougleâ€? for countless photos, to Thilo Lehmann, who contributed to this book through his untiring support and his valuable suggestions, and to Annika Urbat, who provided us with final tips. Thanks of course also go to our supporters and sponsors who helped to financially support this book. Many thanks!


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sponsors and sUpporTers A special thanks to:


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Sources and References References Dawnay, Hugh: Playmaker Polo, 1st edition, London: J.A. Allen, 2004 Evrard, Pascal: Lehrbuch der strukturellen Osteopathie beim Pferd, 1. Auflage, Stuttgart: Enke, 2003 Hasperg jr., Heinrich: POLO, neu editierter Nachdruck von 1907. Bergisch Gladbach, Chevalier Verlag, 2010 Salomon, Walter: Die energetische Behandlung des Pferdes: Kinesiologie, Akupressur, APM-Muskelmassage, 3. Auflage, Stuttgart: Sonntag, 2008 Weir, Robert; Brown, J. Moray: Riding And Polo (1891), Whitefish, USA: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2008 Wiesner, Ekkehard: Lexikon der Veterinärmedizin, 4. Auflage, Stuttgart: Hippokrates, 2000 Online Sources www.deutscher-poloverband.de www.polopicknick.de


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Picture Credits Photographs by Matthias Gruber, expect for page 6, 10, 12 (Matias Callejo), 29 (Dr. Franz Ludwig), 39 (Angelika Aigner), 74, 134 (Rainer Vinzent/Foto Vinzent), 15, 18, 29, 52, 53, 124, 140, 142, 144 (Puro Polo) and 14, 15, 17, 18, 135, 140 (supplied by the authors). Line illustrations by Michael Schรถlz. All pictures and illustrations are protected by copyright. The authors have the necessary rights of use. Notice Even though all care has been taken to ensure an accurate publication, the authors do not guarantee the accuracy of the information nor do they accept any responsibility for any use thereof. All information is supplied without guarantee. We assume no liability for completeness, editorial and printing errors, omissions or the accuracy of information in this book. Copyright The work and all parts thereof are protected by copyright. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. The use of the texts and illustrations, even in parts, without the written agreement of the author, is illegal in terms of copyright and therefore punishable. Bibliographic Information Published by the German National Library: The German National Library lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de.


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IMPRINT POLO BASICS 1st Edition 2010 Copyright by PONYLINE Services, B. Schütz, Lindenstrasse 46, 83607 Holzkirchen, Germany All rights reserved. Authors: Barbara Schütz, Santiago Schweitzer Photographs: Matthias Gruber and others Illustrations: Michael Schölz Layout: Red Mosquito Media Maker Print and Binding: Digital Print Group O. Schimek GmbH, Munich Printed in Germany. ISBN 978–3–00–032487–1 Another version of this book is published in German with the ISBN 978-3-00-032487-1. This book was translated from German into English by Claudia Loepp. www.polo-basics.com


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Polo Basics – how to make a good shot (english version)  


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