A Passion For Polo

Part of the Horse exhibition.

Many sports that involve fine horsemanship have come down to us from royalty. Even today, they tend to be practiced by a privileged few. In Europe and North America, no sport is considered more dashing or aristocratic than polo.

Before polo was known in the West, men and women of the royal court in Persia and India played the game. In the 1800s, the English upper classes learned to play polo--and made it popular with the wealthy in many other parts of the world.

Pony Up

A polo player must ride with perfect control, while swinging a mallet to drive a ball toward a goal at the end of the field. Most fans agree that a player is only as good as his horse. Polo ponies work hard and tire quickly, so after each seven-minute playing period, the players switch to fresh horses. Buying and caring for a pool of highly skilled polo ponies is part of the expense of the game.

Polo equipment belonging to Argentine polo player Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras.
Denis Finnin/AMNH


The polo equipment in this display belongs to Argentine polo player Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras, a member of the Black Watch team of East Hampton, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida. Figueras also models clothing for the fashion industry, where polo has long served as a symbol of elegance and prestige.

The Stick And The Ball

In Persia, polo was once called the game of kings. Legend has it that when Alexander the Great was about to invade Persia in 334 BC, the Persian ruler sent him a polo mallet and ball and invited him to a game. "I am the stick," Alexander replied as he turned down the invitation. "The ball is the world."

Polo Shirt

The design for the modern polo shirt, a cotton-knit garment with a collar and buttoned placket, was originally developed for tennis and dates back to the 1920s. Like many other forms of clothing worn in equestrian sports, it has become an article of fashion, meant to evoke both leisure and traditional style.

Boots and Kneepads

Most polo players wear custom-made boots like the pair shown here. Kneepads protect a player's legs in this bruising, sometimes dangerous game.