Eight mounted horses ridden by men with five foot sticks and helmets, 300 yards of field and a solid ball. It sounds like the start of a medieval war but polo has been a rather posh sport in Argentina for centuries. Brought over by the British colonizers, who would enjoy the sport on the pampas fields. It now remains very much in the Argentine culture as an elitist sport for the upper class with money to support a horse.
The Argentina Open Final is just around the corner and the upper class are getting rather excited about the thought of seeing those dashing gents darting around on horseback once again. If you are anything like me, then you will be left wondering what all the fuss is about. So when the crowd is out pushing in the tufts of dirt perhaps you can hide under the champagne table and read this polo guide.
It seems that being a good polo player is one of those things that you are born into. There is a phrase that says, ‘Once a polo family always a polo family.’ The finances and the knowledge about horse raising, grooming and breeding, the key to success for all polo players is kept well within families. Training a horse for polo is a lifetime of dedication. Both the player and the horse have to be picked out at birth. A professional polo player said that it is 70% the horse, and how good the horse is is almost invariably depends on the amount of time and money invested into it. The standard of the players at the high levels is fairly uniform.
The Polo Rules
4 horses on a side. 4 men on horses. The idea is to hit the ball through the goals. The team with the most goals wins. After each goal, the teams change side to compensate for wind and other interferences. The boundaries are marked by six foot high wooden fences.
The polo game is divided up into parts known as chukkas (or chukkers) A game might have 4,6 or even 8 chukkas. In-between these chukkas, which last 7 minutes each, the players have a few minutes break to switch to fresh ponies. The poorer leagues will alternate between two horses. Each player could ride up to eight ponies in a game of eight chukkas.
Also Read: WHAT IS THE NATIONAL SPORT OF ARGENTINA?
Handicaps such as those used in golf are often incorporated into the games: all the riders’ handicaps (assigned individually based on previous performance) are combined for each team. The difference between them will be divided by 6 and multiplied by the number of chukkas of play in the game and that number will be given as the number of goals to the side with the weaker handicap. This is done even before the teams begin to play. And so the game begins, the two teams of four line up smartly, sticks in hand. They line up in the order of 1,2,3 and 4 all obediently facing the umpire in the centre of the field. There are also two unmounted (without horses) that stand on the sidelines avoiding being hit by the balls, sticks and horses. The start is marked by one of the umpires ceremonially throwing the ball in hard and fast between the two teams.
So hopefully if you do head down in your best clothes to the Argentina Open Polo Tournament Final on the 10th and 11th of December, you will know a little more about the perhaps little known sport of Polo.