“Let other people play other things – the King of games is still the game of Kings “– inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit, Pakistan
So here we go with the 1st of a series of posts about polo! Future posts will be topics about game tactics, tack, the ponies (of course), and I’ll have a Q&A post where you can post any question you have about polo.
But today, this post will be about the history and background of this fabulous equestrian sport!
The name “polo” is thought to have come from the Tibetan word “pulu” which means ball.
Polo is thought to have originated in the area around Persia about 2000-2500 years ago. The precise origin of polo isn’t known but there is historical evidence showing that it was very prevalent in Persia and then spread into India and China. The first recorded polo game took place in 600BC between the Turkomans and Persians, in which the Turkomans won. From what records we have of polo in the past, it seems as though it was a game to teach cavalry tactics to the Persian army and was played in sometimes with 100 people on each team. In the 16th century, a polo ground (was built at Ispahan, then the capital, by Shah Abbas the Great.
Polo spread to China through trade with India and the Middle East where it was very popular in the Tang Dynasty and was depicted quite often in paintings and sculptures. It is interesting that during the Tang Dynasty, women played polo along side men and were just as avid of equestrians as their male counterparts; probably due to the fact that they highly regarded horses as depicted in a lot of the art at that time.
The oldest polo ground in the world is the Imphal Polo Ground in the Manipur state of India, where it has been documented as a polo ground from 33 AD. In India, polo was traditionally played with 7 players on a side with no official goal posts and goals were scored by hitting the ball out of the long ends of the field. The British discovered polo around the 1850s in Manipur and soon in 1862, the Calcutta Polo Club was the 1st polo club to be founded. British military officers stationed in India soon brought the game back to England and the Hurlingham Polo Association was formed. The HPA also created the first set of formal polo rules, which quite a few of them are still used today.
As polo became more popular in England, English settlers in Argentina started to play the sport. From there, the local native gauchos (cowboys) picked up polo and several polo clubs popped up. Now, Argentina is considered the world’s mecca for polo and hosts the Hurlingham Polo Open, Tortugas Polo Open, and the Palermo Polo Open; these 3 games are known as the “Triple Crown” of polo. The Argentine polo season runs from October to about December since down by the equator those months are the summer months. If you haven’t watched the clip I posted from the Tortugas Polo Open, I highly recommend it! Seeing high goal polo is pretty epic, the players and ponies alike.
Finally, on to polo in the USA! In the early 20th Century, polo in the United States changed from the slower, shorter pass, game that was played in England, to a much faster and more aggressive game. Instead of short passes, players started to use longer upfield passes to teammates that broke away from the main pack. This style of polo is now the predominant way of playing outdoor polo.
To wrap up this segment, polo is played in about 77 countries, but is only professionally played in a few countries with the notable ones being: Argentina, USA, UK, Australia, India, and France. The most important tournaments are played in Argentina (Triple Crown), but there are other large international tournaments played all over the world. For example, the big tournaments in the US are the United States Polo Association Gold Cup, the USPA America Cup, and the USPA Pacific Coast Open.
That wraps up this 1st Polo Explained post! Next post I’ll be explaining the rules of the game and game tactics. Thanks for reading!