Find out all you need to know about the ancient game of Polo, including the background, rules, handicap, ponies, and dictionary of terms.


One of the oldest sports in the world, Polo dates back at least 2,000 years, with the first recorded match being played between the Persians and Turkomans in 600BC. The Turkomans won.

From Persia the game migrated to the East, eventually establishing itself in India by the 16 Century under the patronage of the Mughal Emperor Babur, as well as in China and Japan.

It was in India that the British tea-planters and the British army stationed there first saw and played the game in the 1850s, before enthusiastically taking it back to England in about 1869, from where it spread to some of the other European countries with a strong equestrian tradition, including Russia, Poland, Austria and France.

Today, more than 77 countries play polo. It was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1939 and has now been recognised again by the International Olympic Committee. Whereas once the game was primarily played by Royalty and later cavalry, today the sport has become more accessible and attracts a broader spectrum of society.

The first game in Australia was played at Moore Park, Sydney, in 1874, and from there it spread throughout the country. Unlike in some other countries, in Australia the origins of the sport have always been far more humble, with the farmer being its backbone, as immortalized by Banjo Patterson’s "Geebung Polo Club".

Over recent years, the growth of the sport across the globe has been substantial, and in Australia, the sport is being embraced by young urban professionals captivated by the excitement and adrenaline of the sport, as well as lured by tranquil and often exquisite bush settings of many country polo tournaments.

Polo is the fastest ball game and some believe it is the fastest growing spectator sport in the world.

The Game

Polo is very straightforward as a spectator sport. There are usually six periods (Chukkas) of seven minutes. There are four players in each team. The No. 1 and 2 are basically forwards. The No. 3 and 4 are equivalent to five-eight and back in Rugby. The players should mark their opposite number; that is the No. 4 should mark the No. 1, preventing him from scoring by hooking and riding off. There is no "offside" rule. The rules are common sense based on a player having the "right of way" in order to eliminate danger.

Therefore, no player shall play with his left hand. Play starts from a line up in the centre by one of the two umpires throwing the ball.

The team that scores the most goals wins. Behinds do not count. The umpires will award penalties depending upon the severity of the infringement. There are verying degrees of penalties:

Penalty I A goal is signalled and a throw-in occurs 10 yards out from the penalized team’s goal mouth
Penalty II 30 yards free hit
Penalty III 40 yards free hit
Penalty IV 60 yards free hit
Penalty V(a) A free hit on the spot
Penalty V(b) A free hit from the middle of the ground

The essence of the game is team work.

The Rules Explained


Click to enlarge the images.



All registered players are rated on a scale of -2 to 10 (the higher the better). The handicap of the team is the sum total rating of its players, and in handicap matches the team with the higher handicap gives the difference in ratings to the other team.


The best polo ponies are of thoroughbred blood whose main qualities are heart, speed wind, stamina and the ability to accelerate, stop and turn quickly, and whose temperament is amenable to the rigors of the game.

There is no height limit for the horses, although most are between 15 and 15.3 hands. The age of a pony is generally between 5 and 15 years. Players concede the pony accounts for up to 80% of their game.

Download a PDF explaining the game [graphics folder/other].

Dictionary of Terms


A player is permitted to ride into another player so as to spoil his shot. The angle of the collision must be slight causing no more than a jar. The faster the horse travels, the smaller the angle must be. A good bump can shake your dentures loose.


The sideboards will not exceed 28 centimetres high: the boards are positioned along the sidelines only.


Also called a period. There are six chukkas in a polo game (four in arena polo & low goal polo) each lasting 7 minutes plus up to 30 seconds in overtime. If, during the 30 seconds, the ball hits the sideboards or goes out of bounds, or if the umpire blows his whistle, the chukka is over. There is no overtime at the end of the sixth chukka unless the score is tied, at which time a seventh chukka will be played until the first goal is scored. A player returns to each chukka on a different horse. Although he may rest one for a chukka or two and play him again.


Length – max 275 metres: min 230 metres

Width – max 180 metres unboarded & 150 metres boarded

Goal Posts

The goal posts, which are collapsible on severe impact, are 7.3 metres apart and 3 metres high.


Any time a ball crosses the line between the goal posts, it is considered a goal regardless of whether a horse or a mallet cause the ball to go through. In order to equalize turf and wind conditions, the teams change ends after every goal scored.


All registered players are rated on a scale of -2 to 10 (the higher the better). Although the word "goal" is often used after the digit, it bears no relation to the number of goals a player might score – only to his ability. The handicap of the team is the sum total rating of its players and in handicap matches the team with the higher handicap gives the difference in ratings to the other team. For example, a 6-goal team will give two goals to a 4-goal team.


A player spoils another’s shot by putting his mallet in the way of a striking player. A cross hook occurs where the player reaches over his opponent's mount in an attempt to hook; this is considered a foul.


Should a team, in an offensive drive, hit the ball across the opponent’s backline, the defending team resumes the game with a free hit from their backline. No time is allowed for knock-ins.


Also known as a "stick". The shaft is made from a bamboo shoot and the head from either the bamboo root or a hard wood such as maple. These vary in length from 48 to 54 inches and are very flexible in comparison to a golf club or a hockey stick.

Near Side

The left-hand of the horse.

Neck Shot

A ball that is hit under the horse’s neck from either side.

Off Side

The right hand side of the horse.

Out of Bounds

When a ball crosses the sidelines or goes over the sideboards, it is considered out of bounds and the umpire throws in another ball between the two teams at that point. No time-out is allowed for an out of bounds ball.


Each of the four team members plays a distinctly different position. Since polo is such a fluid game, the players may momentarily change positions, but will try to return to their initial assignment. Here’s an overview of the players:

No 1 The most forward offensive player
No 2 Just as offensive as No 1 but plays deeper and works harder
No 3 The pivot player between offence and defence and tries to turn all plays to offence
No 4 The Back is a defensive player whose role is principally to protect the goal

Ride Off

This occurs when two riders make contact and attempt to push each other off the line of the ball so as to prevent the other from striking. The horses are the ones intended to do the pushing, although a player may use his body but not his elbows.

These dictionary terms are taken from the Victorian Polo Association.

Comments are closed.