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All About POLO

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Start of play Fouls and misconduct
Match times Officials/Equipment
Out of play Glossary
Right of way

The polo ground

The polo ground


Objective: Polo is played by two teams of four players each, who are all mounted on horseback. Each team attempts to score goals by using sticks to strike the ball between the opposing teams goalposts.

A match is divided into four or six 7-minute periods, also called chukkas. The winning team is the team which has scored more goals at the end of the match.


The start of play

To start the game, the teams line up on each side of the halfway mark. The umpire bowls the ball between the two lines of players. All players must stay still until the ball has left the umpire's hand.

Teams change ends at half time, and after a goal - unless the goal was awarded as a penalty for a dangerous or deliberate foul, in an attempt to prevent a goal. See fouls below.

Substitutes are allowed, but only for players who are injured or ill.

Match times

The organizers may adjust times accordingly. There will be a three minute interval between each period, and a five minute interval halfway through the game.

If the scores are equal at the end of the match, the last period is extended until the ball goes out of play, hits the boards which line the playing area, or a goal is scored. If no goal is scored, there is a five minute interval, and then the match continues.

Periods are started and stopped by a timekeeper's bell. When it rings for the end of a period, the game stops as soon as the ball goes out of play or hits a board. A second bell is rung 30 seconds later. If the ball has not gone out of play by this point, the game stops anyway.

If the losing side is awarded a penalty within 20 seconds of the end of the game, a further 20 seconds will be allowed from the time the penalty is taken, to the final bell. If a goal is scored, the bell is rung at once.

Out of play

The ball is out of play when:

- it is hit over the boards or sidelines. The umpire will bowl it back in from the spot where it crossed the board or line. The ball is bowled in a straight line, parallel to the back line.

- it is hit over the back line by a member of the attacking side. A defending player will hit the ball back in from the point where it crossed the line - but not within 3.65 metres (4 yards) of the goalposts, boards, or sidelines.

- it is hit over the back line by the defending side. The attacking side take a penalty hit from the 60 yard line opposite the point where the ball crossed the line.

- it becomes damaged or caught in a players stick or clothing. The umpire will bowl the ball back into play on the side of the ground where the incident occurred, at least 18 metres (20 yards) from the goalposts, boards, or sidelines.

The polo ground
Right of way

This is one the most important rules in polo. When two opposing players are both heading towards the ball, one player will have right of way (be allowed to go for the ball) over the other player.

Right of way belongs to the player who is:

- following the ball in an exact line, or at the closest angle to it

- is able to strike the ball on the offside (right hand side).

It is a foul to cross or stop in another players right of way, when doing so would obstruct that player from reaching the ball.


Right of way

In this example, player A has the right of way, even though player B is closer.

Right of way

In this example, both players have the right of way.

Right of way

In this example, player B has the right of way as the ball is in a line on the offside. Player C must be careful not to obstruct player B's right of way.

Notes about right of way

- A player does not automatically have right of way by striking the ball, as another player may be at a close angle.

- If two players are following a ball hit by another player, the player closest to the line of the ball has the right of way.

- If two players are approaching the ball from opposite directions, the player who has the ball on their offside has the right of way.

Playing positions

Each player plays in a different position. Players will often change positions but will have a general task in the playing area.

Number 1 is the most forward offensive player. Number 2 is just as offensive but plays further into the opponent's area. Number 3 plays in attacking and defensive positions, but aims to support attacking plays. Number 4 or the Back, is a defensive player whose main role is protecting the goal.

Fouls and misconduct

Bumping (Riding off)

A player is permitted to ride into another player so as to spoil their shot. The angle of collision must not be wide. Players must not:

- bump at angles which could be dangerous to players of ponies

- strike each other with the head, hand, forearm, or elbow, although pushing with the upper arm is allowed

- take hold of, or attempt to take hold of, another player, another player's pony, or another player's equipment

- deliberately ride in front of, or at, another player, causing them to move or stop to avoid a collision, or to trip or attempt to trip a pony

Misuse of the stick

Players may not:

- reach across or under an opponent's pony to strike the ball

- deliberately hit the ball through the legs of an opponent's pony

- catch an opponent's stick when it is above shoulder height. This is called hooking. It is permitted to use the polo stick to hook or block another player's stick, but only when the sticks are below shoulder height.

Players may not use sticks in a way that could cause danger or interference to any player or pony. However, if a player rides into a stroke made by a player who has right of way, it is their own responsibility and is not a foul.

Penalty goals
The umpire may award a penalty goal if a goal would have been scored, but was prevented by the defending side. Ends are not changed after a penalty goal. The umpire restarts the game by bowling the ball between the two lines of teams, (10 yards) from the offending team's goal.

Penalty hits
A penalty hit is a free hit, where the non-offending team are able to strike the ball from a given point towards the offending team's goal. All members of the offending team must be a set distance away from the ball to give the non-offending team the best chance to take the penalty hit. The umpire will decide where the penalty hit is to be taken based on how serious the offence was.

- There may be a free hit from a spot 27 or 36 metres (30 or 40 yards) opposite the middle of the offending team's goal. The offending side must stay behind the back line until the ball has been hit, and are not allowed to stand in the goal or ride through it.

The non-offending team may take the hit from the point where the foul occurred. In this case, no member of the offending team may be closer than 27 metres (30 yards) to the ball. The players in the side taking the free hit must be further from the opponent's back line than the ball when the hit is taken.

- A free hit may be taken from a spot 55 metres (60 yards) opposite the offending team's goal. The offending team must be at least 27 meters (30 yards) away from the ball. The players in the side taking the free hit can wait where they want to. They can be closer to the back line than the ball.

- A free hit may be taken from the point where the foul took place, or from the centre spot. In both of these cases, the offending team must be at least (30 yards) away from the ball. The players in the side taking the free hit can wait where they want to. They can be closer to the back line than the ball. The ball must also be at least (4 yards) away from the boards or sidelines.

If a penalty hit is not done correctly, a penalty goal may be awarded, or the umpire may:

- allow the non-offending team to place themselves where they want

- all the non-offending team to retake the hit, unless a goal was scored or awarded

If there is an unnecessary delay in taking a penalty hit, the umpire may bowl the ball back into play from the spot where the hit would have been taken.

Accidents and loss of equipment

The umpire will stop the match if a player or pony is injured. If any equipment is damaged, the match is stopped if the damage is considered a danger to other players or ponies. If a player falls without injury, the match continues, although while not on horseback, that player must not touch the ball or interfere with the game.

If a player is injured, fifteen minutes are allowed for recovery. If that player cannot continue, a substitute player joins the match. If the player was injured as a result of a foul, the injured player's captain may ask for one of the opposing players to leave the game and the match will continue with three players on each side.


The game is controlled by two umpires on horseback, who usually cover half of the field each. A referee stands off the field, and rules on disagreements between the umpires. Two goal judges stand behind each goal area and report any doubts or incidents to the umpires. They wave flags when a goal is scored. There will also be a timekeeper who signals the start and end of periods, and may also keep score.


Polo sticks (mallets) are made of bamboo canes, or poly resins, in varying lengths between 1.2 and 1.3 metres (49 to 53 inches) to suit the individual and the pony. The heads are made of willow or maple. The ball diameter is 8.4 centimetres (3 and a half inches), and it is made of ash or bamboo. It weighs between 113 and 140 grams (4 and 5 ounces).

The goalposts are 3.05 metres (10 feet) high, often with a flag on top. There is no net between the posts, which are 7.32 metres (8 feet) apart. They are made of light material which breaks easily if a player or pony hits one of them. There may also be boards along the edge of the field. They are 3.96 metres (13 feet) long, and 28 centimetres (11 inches) high.


Hooking - using a stick to catch another player's stick.

Knock-in - when the ball is hit over the back line by a member of the attacking side. A defending player will hit the ball back in from the point where it crossed the line.

Nearside - the left-hand side of the horse.

Neck shot - when the ball is hit under the horse's neck from either side.

Offside - the right hand side of the horse.

Tail shot - when the ball is hit the ball behind the horse.

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