Polo is an intense sport to watch and to play. Both horses and riders must train physically and mentally. The polo ponies used in the game look strong and fit and tall enough to be horses. So why is a horse that plays polo referred to as a polo pony?
What is Polo?
Oh goodness. If you have never had the pleasure of watching a polo match in person, then I’m sorry, you’re missing out!
Polo is a high-intensity game with riders on horses with golf club-like mallets and a hard polo ball.
The field that they play on look similar to a soccer field with goals on either end marked by goal posts.
Polo matches have referees and score boards and penalties too – all things that make the sport so exciting.
Another aspect of the game is the quickness of the horses, galloping on for what can seem like a football field, turn on a moments notice, and get right into the center of the action, mallets-spinning, and not being phased.
These horses are pure athletes.
There are usually four to six chukkers per match, each chukker lasting seven and a half minutes, with every horse being on the move constantly throughout the chukker.
It is typical for a single player to have numerous horses available for each match, using a separate horse for each chukker, sometimes two.
No horse plays two consecutive chukkers in a row, so each player rides would ride at least three ponies in the course of a six-chukker match for instance.
The riders are athletes to, playing an intricate game of lines with the ball and other players.
It’s simply something you must see for yourself in your lifetime. You won’t be disappointed!
What is a Pony?
A pony is an equine, or horse that is on the short side.
The actual definition of what constitutes a pony will depend on what horse organization you abide by.
Measuring a Pony’s Height:
Many people will say that a pony is a horse that is less than 14.2 hands high without shoes and 14.2 1/2 hands with horse shoes on.
What is a hand? A ‘hand‘ is the measurement used to measure the height of a horse or pony. One hand is equivalent to around 4 inches.
This is measured with a measuring stick or tape specifically designed and marked by hands.
One side of the stick or tape will touch the flat ground, while the measured area of the device should reach and be read off at the highest part of the pony’s withers (bony protuberance at the top of the shoulder blade area running along the spine).
Some horse organizations even go so far as to organize ponies into small, medium, and large ponies, as does the United States Hunter Jumper Association.
The hunter/jumper community divides ponies into these categories to make it more fair while competing over jumps.
Ponies can do anything a full-sized horse can do – run, jump, swim, buck.
Ponies are notorious for being mischievous and having funny personalities.
What’s a Polo Pony?
A polo pony is any horse (or pony) that plays the sport of polo.
Polo ponies are not a specific breed of horse and are not from one specific or certain bloodline.
Instead of being a certain breed, polo ponies must meet certain physical and mental requirements.
Most polo ponies today are at least partly of a thoroughbred bloodline thanks to the thoroughbred’s speed, endurance, and build, with strong legs to carry a rider long distances at high speeds – great physical qualities needed in a polo horse.
Polo ponies in a match will have their manes hogged and their tails plaited up before a match so that the swinging polo mallet won’t get tangled in it.
Mentally, polo horses must be intelligent, have focus, and have a ‘heart for the game’ of polo.
These ponies need to be brave, able to run, turn, and jump into a play, but also remain obedient and willing to a rider’s direction in the saddle.
The thoroughbred is a versatile horse breed commonly used as a polo horse in the U.S.
Many of today’s American polo horses are at least partly of thoroughbred decent.
The thoroughbred is known for incredible speed.
Breeding has given the thoroughbred stamina to carry the rider over long distances at high speeds, fantastic qualities for the polo horse.
Quarter Horse Qualities:
The typical American polo pony is a cross between the thoroughbred, discussed above, and the American quarter horse.
Quarter horses are cutting horses, bred to be limber, agile animals for herding cows and other livestock.
Their agility enables polo horses to make quick directional changes followed by quick bursts of speed.
Breeding For Polo:
High-end polo ponies are bred specifically for polo.
If breeding polo stock, it will take years before you will know whether the progeny will make a good polo mount.
Racehorses For Polo:
Ex-racehorses, typically thoroughbred, offer an alternative source of polo horses when breeding them is not an option.
There are so many retired racehorses out there needing a new home and a new job, it would be unfortunate not to consider them as potential polo mounts.
Think about it- they are already broke to ride and trailer, know how to stand for the farrier, and stand for grooming and the vet.
Racehorses already have the want to win, and can be retrained for polo in just a few months, as they get desensitized to the swinging mallet and to the idea of being bumped by other polo horses.
How Long Do They Live?
The average age of a playing polo pony is about nine years, but their playing life may last into their teens, depending on the level of polo that is played and the health of the horse.
The actual horse itself can live well into their 30’s.
Why Are They Called “Polo Ponies”?
You’re probably wondering why they’re called ‘ponies’ if there are no height or breed restrictions in polo.
Although they are called “ponies”, this is a reference to their agile type rather than their size.
The height of polo ponies has varied from about 13 hands many many years ago, to modern horses of 16 hands or more.
Today, most polo ponies stand around an average of 15.1 hands although it is not unusual to see a horse over 16 hands, and will weigh between a thousand and eleven hundred pounds.
Polo Horse Vices:
Horses that have issues such as previous injuries or fears, that may potentially be dangerous to other players or ponies are banned from playing.
Are Polo Ponies Hard to Ride and Train?
Polo ponies need to be trained so that they are not afraid of the ball or mallet and not scared to bump into other horses.
Thus there is a significant amount of time and effort required for exercise and conditioning of a polo horse.
They are quick and agile so they can turn and follow the ball through its many movements, therefore they need to be in good physical condition.
How Much Do Polo Ponies Cost?
Horses can be quite costly. Not only is there the initial cost to purchase a polo horse, but there are both fixed (like training fees or boarding costs) and variable costs (such as emergency veterinary bills) associated with the upkeep and maintenance of horse ownership.
So no matter how much the horse’s purchase price is, from free to hundreds of thousand of dollars, remember that there are so many other financial factors to keep in mind.
So yes, polo ponies can be costly.