Blagger’s guide to Polo on the Beach #POTB14

With the English high-goal season upon us and Polo on the Beach just around the corner, here are the main points to guide you through a day watching world-class polo. The rules of beach polo are slightly different to that of grass polo, with adaptations largely due to the smaller size of the pitch.

What is high, medium and low goal polo?

Polo players are rated on their ability, and are given a handicap which ensures that matches will be fair. Polo handicaps start at -2 for beginners, and end at 10 goals, for the world’s best players; unlike golf, the higher your handicap, the better a player you are. In the UK the top handicapped player is 8 goals.

In order to form a team, the four players’ handicaps are aggregated to form a team handicap. Beach polo only has three players per team as the pitch is much smaller. Low goal polo is when the team handicap of the four players ranges from -8 to 8 goals, medium goal from 12-15, and high goal from 18 upwards.

Polo on the Beach is classified as a high goal match as is the highest beach polo played in the country. In 2013 team Joules and team First Great Western had a handicap of 15 goals to 16 goals respectively and was the highest ranked beach polo match of the year.

How are handicaps decided?

By a committee of players and officials at each club, and these are checked and confirmed at the end of the season by the governing body of polo, the Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA). Men and women play together and therefore are handicapped in exactly the same way.

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A 40-goal team, that’s pretty good and pretty rare isn’t it?

Ten goals is the highest handicap a player can have. Therefore a 40-goal team is the highest you can have. There is one such team in the world at the moment: the La Dolfina team in the Argentine Polo Open comprised of Adolfo Cambiaso, Pelon Stirling, Pablo MacDonough, and Juan Martin Nero. You can’t get better than that.

Source: Claire Milford-Haven, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/polo

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How many players in a beach polo team?

Two teams each made up of three players. The players in each team are numbered 1 to 3. Player 1 is the attacking position, player 2 is the midfield position and player 3 is the defence. There is only one umpire in beach polo. No player is allowed to approach the umpire during play. Due to safety all polo players must play right handed.

How big is the pitch?

The ground is a fenced area 100 yards long by 50 yards wide. The goal posts, positioned at each end of the ground, are six yards apart. Beach polo pitches are similar in size to arena polo pitches and are about a tenth of the size of a grass pitch.

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How long is the beach polo match?

The full game is played over four chukkas. The first three chukkas are six and a half minutes long. The last chukka is played for six minutes dead, unless there is a draw, in which case a knock out chukka is played. The clock does not stop when the ball goes out of play – in beach polo the clock is only stopped when a foul has been committed. There are intervals of three minutes between chukkas and five minutes at half time, to “tread in” the playing surface. Ends are changed at every goal scored. This is due to wind and sun direction.

How long can a pony play?

Ponies can play a maximum of two chukkas in an afternoon with a rest of at least one chukka in between. There is no limit to the height of ponies but they are usually between 14.2 and 16 hands.

What is a foul?

A player following the ball on its exact line has the right of way over all other players. Any other player who crosses the player on the right of way close enough to be dangerous commits a foul. Penalties vary according to the degree of danger and closeness of the cross. No player may hook an opponent’s stick unless he is on the same side of the opponent’s pony as the ball. Dangerous play or rough handling is not allowed – a player may ride an opponent off, but must not charge in at an angle.

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Polo glossary

Appealing – Claims by players for a foul, expressed by the raising of mallets above the head.

Back shot – Backhand swing, changing the flow of play by sending the ball in the opposite direction.

Bump – When a player directs his pony into the side of an opponent’s pony. See Ride off.

Check and turn – To slow the pony and turn safely.

Chukka – Term used for period of play in polo.

Goal Judge – An official goal observer appointed to signal by waving a flag over the head if a goal is scored, or under the waist if no goal.

Goal – Anytime the ball crosses the line between the goal posts, regardless of who (including ponies) knocks it through.

Handicap – Team play is handicapped on the basis of ability. A team’s handicap is the total of its players’ goal ratings. The team with the lower handicap is awarded the difference in goals at the start of the match.

Hands – Unit of measure for the height of a horse, one hand equals about four inches (hh).

Hit in – After the ball crosses the back line, the defending team knocks the ball back into play from their own back line.

Hook – Catching an opponent’s mallet in swing below the level of the players shoulder, to leave the ball for a teammate.

Leave it – A call to ride past the ball so that the team mate behind can hit it.

Line of the ball – The imaginary line produced by the ball when it is hit or deflected.

Nearside – The left hand side of the polo pony.

Neck shot – Hitting the ball under the horse’s neck.

Offside – The right hand side of the polo pony.

Pass – To hit the ball forward or laterally to a team mate.

Penalty – Numbered from 1 to 10, a free hit is awarded to the fouled, from a set distance determined by the severity of the foul committed.

Ride off - Two riders may make contact and attempt to push each other off the line to prevent an opponent from striking the ball.

Safety – Also known as Penalty 6, a defending player hits the ball over his own back line.

Swing – Hitting at the ball with the mallet using one of four basic shots: forehand, backhand, neck, and tail.

Tail shot – hitting the ball behind and under the horse’s rump.

Throw in – When the umpire starts or resumes the match, he rolls the ball down the center of a line up of players and horses.

Time out – An umpire may call a time out when a foul is committed, an accident occurs, or at his or her discretion. A player may only call a time out if he has broken tack or is injured.

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