Before the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup in Palm Beach starring Prince Harry, Pursuitist had the opportunity to learn how to play polo from two of the top polo professionals in the world — Sentebale Ambassador Nacho Figueras and Royal Salute Ambassador Malcolm Borwick—as well as actress and model Jodie Kidd, who is also an accomplished polo player in her own right.
Borwick explained that during the mid-19th century, polo was initially used as a vehicle to train British officers how to ride horses. A 32 page long document outlining the rules of the game was then written and remain the same rules that are followed to this day. “The popularity of polo spread around the world, down to Argentina, which dominates the sport to this day,” he says. “It had a huge boom in popularity during the Great Gatsby era, he added. “And it is now on the way back up.”
Kidd, whose father and brother were also aficionados of the sport, explained what best sums up a polo player. “They are incredibly athletic,” she explained. “Not only are you riding a horse at 40 miles per hour, but you’ve got to have the skill to hit this tiny little ball through very small goals.”
Here are a few of the basics:
The polo ground is 300 yards by 160 yards with collapsible goal posts that are eight yards apart.
There are four players on each team. The polo stick is always held in the right hand, even if the player is naturally left-handed. “Everybody plays right-handed,” says Borwick. “The rules are written for safety.”
The first position on the team is what Borwick refers to as the “striker”. This is the forward, who is known for accurate goal scoring.
The second position is the “Jack Russell”. This is the player who supports the teammate in the first position. The number two is also well mounted to mark opposing number 3.
The third position is the “general”. This is similar to the “center half” in soccer; this player controls the speed and direction of the game.
The final position is the fourth. This is the “defensive player” who sits in back and plays defense. This is a strong backhander to his forwards. This player is likely to be behind, waiting for loose balls.
“This is important,” says Borwick, “because the game is played in pairs. You will see us marking each other on the field.”
Each of the four chukkas is seven minutes in length. Teams change ends each time a goal is scored or if no goals have been scored by half-time.
Handicaps: each player is rated from minus 2 to 10. In handicapped tournaments, you must multiply the difference between the two teams’ handicaps by the number of chukkas to be played, then divide by six to get the number of goals awarded to the lesser-handicapped team.
The polo sticks are made out of bamboo or graphite and range in length depending on the height of the pony.
The main strokes of the game are as follows:
The forehand or backhand: The stick is always held in the right hand and most shots are taken on the right-hand side of the pony.
Under the neck shot: this is a shot that is taken under the neck of the pony.
The nearside shot: this is a shot taken on the left-hand side of the pony.Photo copyright Royal Salute; photographer Roberto Chamorro
Carrie Coolidge is a Pursuitist contributor based in Manhattan. From 2009 to 2011, Carrie served as Co-Editor of Luxist, the luxury lifestyle website at AOL where she ran the Luxist Awards, a program that honored the very best in fine living. From 1996 to 2009, Carrie was a Staff Writer at Forbes magazine, where she covered real estate, personal finance and the insurance industry, among other areas. Carrie is also the author of six books, including "The Business of America is Business". Follow her on Twitter: @carriecoolidge