To start, polo is a relatively easy sport to watch. After reading the following information and tips, it shouldn’t take more than a match or two to fully grasp how to follow a polo match and feel comfortable speaking about it with others. I prefer weekday high goal polo games where it is easy to get a good field-side position and watch the game from up close. At most of the weekday games, the spectators consist of professional polo players and the grooms that work for professional polo teams, lending the spectator a feeling they are getting a priviledged, insider view of the high goal world. You will get to see and listen to many of the top-ranked high goal players on a weekday game and the feeling is much more of a serious one as people are strictly there for the polo match. Quite differently, at most weekend matches, the spectators comprise of polo player groupies and socialites of the area who are mainly there to see and be seen and don’t pay as much attention to the match as they do to the scene outside of the game. Also, more importantly, it’s typically very crowded and extremely difficult to get up close and a good view of the polo match.
To give a basic understanding of the structure of the polo teams, there are four polo players per team and two mounted referees on the field with one umpire fieldside. There are two goal monitors as well to declare a successful goal or not. The time periods are called chukkers or chukkahs and have a duration of 7 1/2 minute seach. This may not seem very long but believe me, when you are playing they are the longest 7 1/2 minutes of your life. There are 6 chukkers in a high goal game with one half time. Each polo player comes with several horses as they are allowed to change horses throughout the match as much as needed. You will see this occuring frequently at the each end of the field. The polo players have grooms/trainers holding reserve horses warmed up and fully equipped, ready to go for very swift changes as the match does not stop for them. The players usually hop from one horse sideways directly onto the “fresh” horse without touching the ground and then charging back to the action on the field.
Players are rated on a scale from a -2 rating to a 10. 10 being the highest goals made by a professional polo player during a single match, such as Adolfo Cambiaso, Pablo Macdonough, Juan Martin Nero, Facundo Pieres and Gonzalito Pieres. Each team of four players is allowed to have players that collectively rank up to 26 goals. So if you have one 10-goal player the other three can only collectively add up to 16. Most of the high goal polo players are from Argentina, England and the United States. Most consider the best fields in the world to be the ones located in Wellington, Florida in the United States. The fields in Wellington are host to the Piaget Gold Cup and the US Open amongst many other professional high goal tournaments. High goal players are meant to be very fit and obviously not overweight. The lighter is often the better in weight as it provides more agility and speed for both the player and his polo pony.
The main idea of a polo match is to get the ball between the goal posts (as mentioned above are not defended with a goal keeper) scoring points for your team. The players align their team alongside the center line of the field and the referee “bowls” or throws in the ball from the center of the field and both teams battle for control of it. The polo players have to respect certain rules to ensure the safety of the ponies and players. Mostly, respecting rules pertaining to the securing of the “line” or trajectory of the ball. Any foul made by a played and called by the referee by a blow of the whistle results in a penalty and the severity is decided by the referees, such as a 30-yard free hit towards the goal, or a 60-yard or hit from the center of the field. The polo game is a very fast and physical game where the players control the “line” of trajectory of the ball by pushing their pony to thwart the opposing team players pony off the play. When a goal is scored the players again align themselves in the center of the field for a “bowl in” by the referee. When a goal is missed the opposing team takes the ball from the end line and aims to carry the ball the length of the polo field to score a goal. The professional high goal polo field is approximately the size of ten football fields and the turf consists of premium Bermuda grass, shaved extremely short.
Most of the top polo ponies are bred in the United States, more specifically the thoroughbreds from Kentucky and Florida. Argentina provides the majority of the polo ponies coming to the US. Most of these consist of a thoroughbred cross with the Argentinian ranch horse. In my view, the premium quality high goal polo ponies are the thoroughbreds originating from the United Kingdom, Kentucky (United States) and Ireland. The sturdiest polo ponies undisputedly come from Argentina. They have a heavier bone, foot and thicker muscle base.
The polo scoreboard basically consists of the name of the field sponsor, the time clock displaying the amount of time remaining in the chukker, the number displaying the chukker being played and the colors of each of the two teams with their respective scores (goals made) underneath each team’s color. The featured high goal polo games will display the last names of the players along with their goal level.
The announcer is usually located at the center of the West side of the field and speaks through a microphone meant to reach most of the spectators continously tracking the game and calling out the name and move of each player. Each of the two polo teams have a tent on opposing corners which provides a resting place out of the sun with refreshments and chairs for the four polo players and their personal assistants as well as guests (mallet experts, personal trainers, horse veterinarians, family and friends, etc.)
By: Patrick Ohannessian
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