THE SPORT OF KINGS
Polo is an ancient sport dating as far back as the 5th Century BC, although some experts suggest it started even earlier
Originating in Persia (what is now Iran), it is thought that polo was played as a training exercise for the King’s guards and troops. The game went on to become popular with nobility and became the Iranian national sport. In contrast, the tribesmen of Persia were also believed to have played polo, but for them it was a miniature battle with as many as 100 players on each team.
The modern game of polo is played most famously in Britain, Argentina and America but actually originates from India where the game was known as “Pulu”, which referred to the ball used in play. In India, polo was a game for everyone and was played by kings and villagers alike.
It was the Brits that established polo as the fast paced, non-stop game it is today, preferring long, hard shots to the slow and methodical Indian style.
The 10th Hussars military introduced polo to England in 1834. The game’s governing body in the UK is the Hurlingham Polo Association, who drew up the first set of formal rules which still exist today. The association is also responsible for handicapping polo players from -2 to 10 goals.
There are two key seasons in polo; grass and arena. The grass season runs from April to September, and the arena polo season runs from October to February.
Although their are national teams for each country, teams are generally created by a ‘patron’. They can create a team of players from any nationality. Amateurs and professionals regularly play together and against each other and a polo professional markets his skills to wealthy amateurs so that they can play in high goal polo tournaments and is paid an amount commensurate with his handicap rating.
For a polo player, the sport can be an expensive one as they have to keep a selection of high class polo ponies. An amateur that puts together a team with one or more polo pros is a patron. Polo is played in 80 countries worldwide and was briefly an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1939.