Polo is one of the most recognized but least understood equestrian sports. Ralph Lauren's famous brand brought the iconic image of a player on a pony to the masses, but many people don't actually know the rules of the game. In order to fully appreciate your time at a polo club watching teams compete, here is a primer on the fundamental rules of game play and spectator etiquette:
Polo is played between two teams of four riders: two attack, two defense. The object is to score as many points for your team as possible by using a club to hit a ball between your opponent's goal posts. A referee begins the game by rolling a ball onto the field between the two teams.
The most fundamental concept of the game is that of the line of the ball. This is essentially a right of way that is determined by the path of the ball. Players are always vying to keep the line of the ball to their right. As long as they do, they have the right of way, meaning other players cannot impede them from the front. However, the opposing team can take the player off of the line of the ball using a variety of tactics, including hooking their mallet, bumping their horse or stealing away the ball.
In addition, players are not allowed to make deliberate contact between their mallets and other players or their ponies. The mallets must be held in the right hand. However, there are still many left-handed players. They are thought to be less accurate when striking the ball but much more adept at controlling their ponies.
Attending a polo match can be just as exciting as playing. While these matches often have the stigma of only being attended by the super-rich, the truth is, people from all walks of life can often be seen enjoying a polo match, so you need not be worried about underdressing. However, major tournaments and charity benefit matches often require a higher level of attire.
One of the most exciting parts of watching a polo match is the tradition of divot stomping during halftime. During this time, spectators take to the field to stomp down any turf that has been torn up during play. This tradition presents a great opportunity to mingle with other spectators as well as players who often participate to stay limber between the halves.
Polo is a great sport that is almost as much fun to play as it is to watch, so be sure to take any opportunity you get to go out and support your local polo club.