Caspar West is polo manager of the world famous Beaufort Polo Club in England. In 2015, he will once again be the head umpire at the Snow Polo World Cup in Kitzbühel. Together with Tito Gaudenzi, he has analysed and adapted the official polo rules of the Hurlingham Polo Association to the special conditions which are given when the sport of polo is played on snow. We talked to Caspar West about umpiring in general and the new polo rules in particular.

Caspar, you have been working on an adaptation of particular rules regarding polo on snow. Which rules are you talking about? What consequences does that have for horses, players and spectators?
Basically there has not been a clear set of rules made up for the game of snow polo. What has been done is some adaptation from the grass and the arena rules and it is trying to get a correct combination that works for mainly the safety of horses and players but also to ensure that it provides the best viewing for the spectators also. The rules we are really talking about do still slightly depend on which snow polo we talk about, as for example if you take two tournaments there are differences between Kitz and St. Moritz. In Kitz it is played on mainly snow with an ice base and a smaller field, but St. Moritz is a larger field on ice and so the studs of the horses to ensure grip at the moment are different, which is understandable, but it has to be the same for everyone even if it may be different for each tournament. Handicaps are another question as we find some tournaments use a complete mix as they are played on all types. There can be simply grass handicaps, grass +1 and also arena handicaps, again these all may need to be used in different tournaments depending on location but it needs to be fair for everyone. The key to any rule changes are that they are, as I said before, predominantly safety-focused but also should not become so complex that it stops the flow of such a fast sport, which in turn will spoil the enjoyment and excitement for the spectators.

What are the most difficult aspects in umpiring snow polo?
Once again this is different for each location as on the smaller snow fields we have to umpire from the side, similar to a third man on grass, so from the side of the field which can be sometimes difficult as you are not able always to see the lines created by the players. Therefore this can create frustration amongst the players who may well be in the right; however I have to make that judgment call. I would like to think that a lot of this is avoided by the pre tournament meeting with the players, which is aimed at ironing out any problems, though. There also has to be a small amount of allowance with the conditions to ensure every aspect of safety is considered, which again has to be a judgment call. On the ice in St. Moritz this is not so difficult because of having mounted umpires and a third man and it is therefore very similar to the grass game.

How has umpiring developed in general over the last few decades?
We have started to see a much more professional era to umpiring in the last few decades which has made a huge improvement. We used to have to rely on players umpiring either before or after playing themselves and even if they tried their hardest to be impartial there are factors that always will creep in, whether it is losing concentration due to thinking about their own game next or even feeling hard done by in the game they have just played, which they then take out on the players in the game they then have to umpire. Professional umpires are now becoming a regular feature in a lot of tournaments so that they have no alliance with any of the teams or players and so are completely impartial and therefore umpire much more effectively. A very good example of this in the last few weeks is having an -English pro umpire in Peter Wright joining the Argentine umpires to officiate the Triple Crown in Argentina, and this is something that expands the pro group globally.

What should or must be done by the national associations and the FIP?
Umpires must have full support from their own associations and the FIP and the backing to give the greatest confidence to umpire to the best of their ability. To a degree this needs to be financially set up so that they are able to have a full-time job in umpiring and do not have to rely on aspects such as playing or the selling of horses to make money which will again create difficult situations with players, teams or patrons and could encourage doubt in terms of their having complete impartiality. The associations and FIP need to also ensure that the rules that are being played are clear and without too much chance of misinterpretation. At the moment there are a few rules which do possibly allow this to happen and it needs to be made very clear that the rule is the rule and not something that can create grey areas which in turn cause problems.

What kind of advice could you give those who do umpiring? What are the most important key facts you should stick to as an umpire?
To be the best umpire you can be, the first obvious thing is to know the rules well! If you have a clear understanding it is very difficult for players to have any argument. Keeping up with the game if you are mounted is another key factor as not only will you be in a much better position to see any fouls, but also there can be very little chance of problems from the players disagreeing as you are there on the spot. I also think that you have to be clear and calm in your decision-making, as this will allow you to accept there will be frustration from the players you are umpiring and disagreement but you can then be confident and not confrontational with them.

What is your personal opinion about umpiring?
Umpiring is a very difficult job and there will always be human error and mistakes that are made during a game. At the moment with the proposed ideas that we are trying to formulate regarding the snow rules, it is a work in progress and we are seeking help from all the players and tournament officials so that we can use their experience to ensure the best spectacle for everyone. There will be differences in each tournament due to the sizes of the field and the numbers of players but it will be such an improvement to ensure the ultimate safety for ponies, players and of course all the spectators.