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On the Sideline: Polo

While the British typically recieve credit for polo, the first recorded games were played in what is now Iran over 2,500 years ago. Originally used to train cavalry, early games featured up to 100 players on each team. The name “polo” is derived from the Tibetan word “pulu,” which means ball.

The sport was discovered by officers in the British military in the 1860s. After the founding of several clubs and the creation of a formal set of rules, the game spread throughout British colonies.

Today polo is played with two teams consisting of four riders each, with two mounted umpires and a referee. Matches take place on a field 300 yards long and either 200 or 160 yards wide.

A pair of lightweight goalposts set eight yards apart are mounted at each end of the field. The ball used is 3 inches in diameter and made of either wood or plastic.

The objective of polo is to score more points than the opposing team. Points are earned by driving the ball through the opposing team’s goal. Matches consist of a predetermined number of periods, or chukkas, which are seven minutes in length.

Typical polo matches are six chukkas long. Play continues for the entire chukka and is stopped only for penalties, equipment breakage or injuries. There is a four-minute break between each chukka and a ten-minute halftime.

Equipment consists of riding boots, spurs, white pants, colored shirt, knee pads, face mask, riding helmet, whip, mallet and, of course, the polo pony.

Polo ponies are actually full-size horses which are selected for their speed, stamina and agility. A highly-trained horse can account for approximately 70 percent of a player’s value to his or her team.

Because professional polo is played at a very fast pace, riders will usually switch mounts after each chukka to avoid wearing the horses out.

If there’s a sport you would like to see in “On the Sideline,” or if you have questions, please email sweaver@eastern.edu.

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