Battle For The Ball
The Bridgeman Art Library
Cover of 'Les Sports Modernes' Magazine, July 1905
Battle for the Ball
Horses and riders sprint, shove, and spin around when playing a fast-paced game of polo. By swinging a mallet, each player tries to drive a ball over the goal of the opposite team.
The horses used in polo are often called ponies, but they can belong to any breed, large or small. A well-trained polo pony will gallop at the touch of a spur and hold a straight course while the rider leans out to swing the mallet. Quick turns, hard knocks, and collisions are common. The fray is exhausting, so every few minutes, fresh horses are brought into the game.
Polo ponies are trained from an early age to muscle other horses aside when following the ball. Even at a gallop, they can lean on opponents to drive them away. A well-trained horse responds instantly to a polo player's signals, makes appropriate moves on its own, and even anticipates play.
East to West
British officers first learned to play polo in the mid-1800s in India, where the game dates back more than 500 years. After catching on in Great Britain, it spread to other parts of the world. Today, Argentina is a major center for polo. Argentine polo ponies are typically bred from thoroughbreds crossed with criollos, South American ranch horses known for their cattle-herding skills.
Work to Ride, Inc.
In a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, program called Work to Ride, high-school students who may never have ridden a horse before are learning to play polo. In 1999, players began competing across the United States after forming the first all African-American interscholastic polo team.
A polo shirt on exhibition belongs to Argentine polo player Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras, a member of the Black Watch team of East Hampton, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida. A typical polo team has four players who wear numbers indicating their positions. Highly rated players are often assigned the number 2 spot and play both offense and defense at all times.
Mallet and Ball
During the game, a polo player must lean down from the saddle and strike a ball with a mallet, often while the horse is galloping down the field. The handle is traditionally made from a specially treated length of cane. Handles can be firm or more flexible, depending on the player's preference. Experienced players often use very bendable mallets, which are harder to aim but ensure a more powerful swing.