The history of the sport of kings, polo dates back to ancient Persia and even in today’s world is considered only for elite and celebrity crowd.
What do Prince Charles, Tommy Lee Jones, and Conan O’Brian have in common? All three are notable celebrity players of a sport that is a mix of croquet, rugby, and hockey played on horses: Polo!
Polo a fast paced sport originated in Persia (modern day Iran) over 2500 years ago. From there it spread throughout Asia to India, China and eventually Japan by the Middle Ages.
Known as the sport of kings amongst the elite and the link has not changed.
Even today the sport is played by numerous millionaires, celebrities, and royals – including Prince Charles’ sons William and Harry, who share their father’s love of the game. Not to mention the long-standing association between polo and Ralph Lauren’s fashion and perfume brands!
Modern day polo was popularised by the British during the 19th century. The sport was popular amongst the locals in the Indian state of Manipur. In contrast to other areas where the sport was almost exclusively played by the rich and powerful, in Manipur it was played by virtually anyone who owned a pony. It caught on with British soldiers stationed there, and from there it spread throughout the British Empire.
Supposedly the first polo match played in the United States was played in New York in 1876, shortly after the foundation of the Westchester Polo club. Established by the flamboyant owner of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett Jr., whose other sporting accomplishments include organising the first tennis match in the US and winning the first trans-oceanic yacht race! However, Texans may dispute this version of events. According to Texas legend, the first polo match was played in Boerne, Texas. And there is evidence that there was also an existing polo club in Denison, Texas prior to the formation of Gordon Bennett’s Westchester club. Surely if a polo club existed in Texas, there must have been some games played! Either way polo in the US took off, developing into a fast paced, long passing game in contrast to the slower, shorter passing English game. Today there are over 250 polo clubs in the US.
Polo is now an active sport in 77 countries and is played professionally in Argentina, England, India, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, and right here in the USA. The World Polo Championships, polo’s equivalent of the world cup, began in 1987 and are held every three to four years. The USA won it once, in 1989, but it has been the Argentinians and Brazilians who have dominated. Between them, they have won seven of the nine tournaments played so far. Santiago, Chile the venue for the next tournament being held in 2015.
Polo Horse is required to be fast with a quick turn of speed
A polo match consists of six periods, called Chukkas, which last for 7 minutes. The game is so fast-paced and continuous that it requires very high performance horses. At this elite level, a horse can usually only sustain one chukka per game. Professional polo players own as many as thirty to forty horses in order to have enough fresh mounts for matches throughout the year.Polo ponies are mostly Thoroughbreds. Players and trainers look for horses that can run fast, stop quickly, and turn at speed. They are well balanced, short backed, and compact; no more than 15 or 16 hands – any taller and the players can’t reach the ball!
Polo – high performance sport causes horse stress and creates health issues.
Gastric Ulcers effect 60 percent of performance horses, and polo ponies have some of the most demanding jobs in the equine world! Preventative measures can be taken to avoid gastric ulcers, and these include,reducing training,reducing transportation,adding alfalfa to diet,turning out to pasture more regularly,increased socialising with other horses to reduce anxiety and using a preventative dosage of omeprazole granules.
Omeprazole (also known as abprazole), can also be used to treat gastric ulcers in consultation with your vet. It is an affordable and hassle-free treatment that requires a once a day dose. Abprazole can help a horse maintain good abdominal health, and keep them on the field for many chukkas to come!
So why not get down to your local polo club, and see what all the fuss is about with polo. See the horses thunder down the field, hear the whack of the mallet striking the ball, and even get out onto the pitch at half time for the traditional divot stomping. Who knows, you might even run into a celebrity or two.