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12 April 2021 | Polo

Polo 101: Everything you need to know about the world’s oldest team sport

Polo is at the heart of the Beechmont Estate story. The fast pace, high energy, and breath-taking skill and excellence of the sport inspired the vision of the Estate, and today it remains at its core. 

You don’t need to be a keen polo enthusiast to enjoy your stay here, or enjoy the sport.  Compared to netball, where 1.2 million Australians participate in the game, there are only 50 clubs in Australia – which could explain why you may not know much about it…yet. 

We’re here to help you get across the basics of the game known as the “sport for kings”.

Polo is played on a field bigger than a cricket ground.

A polo field is typically 180 metres wide and 270 metres long, more than 100 metres longer than the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The goalposts at either end span three metres high, and the objective of the game is for a team to convert the most goals through the posts.

A polo match is made up of chukkas. 

Chukkas run for up to seven and a half minutes each – seven minutes of active play and up to 30 seconds of overtime – but here’s where things get tricky. The number of chukkas in a game varies. In Australia, the standard game runs for six chukkas, but it can vary depending on where it’s played, and at what level. Games can run for as little as four, or as many as eight chukkas.

Teams change sides every time a goal is scored.

Unlike most sports where teams change ends at the conclusion of a period of play, in polo, teams switch sides every time a goal is scored. The rule is a result of competitions taking place in hot climates like India. Games would be played in the evening to avoid the heat of the full sun, and teams would switch sides to counter the disadvantage of playing into the setting sun.  

Balls can reach speeds of up to 130 kilometres per hour.

That’s just over the average speed of tennis champion Rafael Nadal’s forehand. In polo, the ball is struck by a mallet wielded by each player, with the objective to accurately score the ball through the goalposts. The ball is traditionally made of bamboo, or in modern times more commonly plastic, weighing around 130 grams. The mallet is usually made of bamboo or hardwood. 

Polo is always played right-handed.

The mallet is only permitted to be held in the right hand. This is for the safety of the horse and the rider, as dangerous collisions could take place if a left-handed player approached a right-handed player at speed on the field. So even if a player’s naturally dominant arm is their left – as it is for around 10 per cent of the population – they will need to adjust.

Horses are called ponies.

No polo player is complete without their polo pony. But don’t let the term fool you. The horses may be referred to as ponies, but they usually stand at around 15 hands (150cm) and are often Thoroughbreds or Australian Stock Horses. Sometimes, players will switch horses between chukkas. When you see a polo pony on the field, they will have their tail braided and mane roached so they don’t interfere with the mallet.

Polo is a team sport, but players are ranked individually.

There are four players per side, and every registered player has an individual rating on a scale of -2 to 10, with 10 being the best rating. This is referred to as the player’s handicap. A team is handicapped based on the total rating of their players. In a game, the team with the lower handicap will have a head-start based on the difference in ratings. For example, if one team has a sum total rating of seven, and the other has a rating of four, the lower-rated team will get a two-goal handicap across the game.

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