Arena, snow and beach polo differ from traditional grass polo in several respects. The playing field and teams are smaller, chukkas shorter and the ball larger. There are also differences in the rules. For example, with polo on grass, the direction of play is changed after each goal. This is not always the case with other polo variants; sometimes the direction of play is only changed after each chukka or every second chukka. An overview of the most important differences is given here.
At the end of the 19th century, the Hurlingham Polo Club set down the rules for grass polo in writing for the first time. They are still used in international polo today. In 1991, the Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) also created a set of rules for arena polo and the International Beach Polo Association (IBPA) also provides a set of recommended rules for beach polo. Headway is also being made in terms of the rules for snow polo: together with Tito Gaudenzi (organiser of the Snow Polo World Cup Kitzbühel), Caspar West (polo manager of the Beaufort Polo Club in England) is adapting the official HPA rules to suit the special conditions of polo played on snow.
Polo can be played on pitches of any size; the most important aspect is that the ground is even and well maintained. With beach and snow polo in particular, pitches vary greatly in length and width depending on the local circumstances.
the polo pitch is normally 300 yards long and 200 yards wide, which corresponds to measurements of approx. 274m x 183m. The 3m high goal posts stand 8 yards apart (approx. 7.20m) and are not firmly anchored in the ground due to safety reasons.
the pitch in arena polo is smaller than in grass polo. The ideal size is a length of 300 feet (approx. 90m) and width of 150 feet (approx. 45m). An arena polo pitch should not be smaller than 150 x 75 feet (45m x 22.5m).
the International Beach Polo Association recommends a length of 100 yards (approx. 90m) and a width of 50 yards (approx. 45m). The ideal set-up is with barriers with rounded corners around the edge so as to keep the ball in play. However, pitch sizes vary according to location.
like beach polo, a snow polo pitch may vary hugely depending on the local circumstances. The snow polo pitch in Tianjin (China) is, for example, 170 yards x 80 yards (approx. 155m x 73m) large, whereas on the frozen Lake St. Moritz, players play on a surface measuring 200m x 80m.
A maximum of four players form a polo team. It is also recommended to have substitutes who can replace players if they sustain injuries.
4 players per team (no. 1 = attacking offensive player, no. 2 = midfield player, no. 3 = tactical focus and heart of the team, no. 4 = defender, also called “back”)
Arena and beach polo:
3 players per team are the norm, although sometimes the game is played with 2 players per team
Snow polo: 2 to 4 players, often three
balls were traditionally made from compressed bamboo, but today are mainly made from plastic. They have a diameter of 3-3,5 inches (8-9 centimetres) and weigh around 130 grams.
with arena polo, the ball is considerably bigger than with grass polo. Its circumference is approx. 15 inches (38 centimetres), and it weighs between 140 and 175 grams. The ball used in arena polo is similar to a small football.
Beach and snow polo:
the balls used in beach and snow polo are also larger than those used in grass polo. In order to be able to see the ball more clearly against the ground, it is a bright colour (often red). The ball is normally inflatable and is made from leather or plastic. Snow polo balls are similar in size to arena polo balls, but lighter. For beach polo, the International Beach Polo Association recommends balls not larger than 5 inches (13 centimetres) in diameter.
a match comprises at least 4 to a maximum of 8 sections, so-called chukkas. One chukka is 7.5 minutes of pure playing time. If there are any interruptions, timing is stopped. Breaks between the individual sections, when the horses must be changed, last between 3 and 5 minutes.
with arena polo, usually 4 chukkas of 6.5 minutes are played. The breaks between the individual sections comprise 4 minutes, and 6 minutes at half-time.
Beach and snow polo:
the IBPA recommends 4 chukkas of 6 minutes and breaks of 5 minutes, with 15 minutes at half-time. There are, however, major differences between the individual tournaments. The same applies to snow polo, where the number and length of the chukkas are very different between tournaments.
Players who do not have a specific arena handicap play in arena polo tournaments with their normal handicap plus 1. Handicaps are also normally raised one level in beach and snow polo.
Additional polo variants and sports related to polo
Polo on grass and in the area are the most widespread types of this fast-paced sport by far. Beach and snow polo is also played around the globe and are gaining in popularity every single year. There are also numerous other types of polo or sports related to polo in existence, including bike polo, camel polo, elephant polo, Segway polo, canoe polo, hobby horse polo, golf cart polo and donkey polo. Other sports linked to polo include buzkaschi, polocrosse, horseball and pato. POLO+10 presents five versions of polo, some of them are lesser known, some are somewhat more bizarre:
In paddock polo, two teams of three players battle it out. It is played on grass or sand and the pitch is max. 160m long and 80m wide. Balls are normally made of leather and have a diameter of around 11.5 centimetres. Horses are not changed during the match. Paddock polo is popular mainly in France.
In cowboy polo, a team comprises five players. Instead of a polo saddle, a western saddle is used, as is other equipment normally only used in western riding. A simple rodeo arena is normally used as the pitch. It is played with a large red rubber medicine ball and the American Quarter horse. Horses are not normally changed during matches. Cowboy polo was founded in 1952 in New Smyrna Beach, Florida (USA) and reached its peak during the 1970s. This type of polo has been in severe decline ever since. Today, cowboy polo is mainly played in the west of the USA and almost exclusively in Montana.
Yak polo (or Sarlagan polo) is a Mongolian version. Instead of ponies, it is played on yaks. Yak polo was invented as a tourist attraction in the early 2000s and has become more and more popular over time. Today, yak polo is also played in Pakistan and is part of the Broghil Festival in the north-western district of Chitral.
Auto polo first made an appearance at the start of the 20th century in the USA. This polo modification is attributed to Ford dealer Ralph “Pappy” Hankinson, who is alleged to have founded the sport as an advertising gimmick to promote sales of the Model T Ford. The sport enjoyed great popularity in the USA mainly at trade fairs and exhibitions from 1911 to the late 1920s. Outside the USA, auto polo was regarded with great scepticism owing to the dangers involved. The rules and equipment were the same as polo on horseback, except cars were used instead of ponies. Auto polo was played on an arena pitch. Each team had two cars and four men. Drivers were strapped in, with the man with the polo stick hanging onto the side. The aim was, as with grass polo, to hit the ball – in this case a basketball – between the opposing goalposts. At the start, normal cars were used, but later cars without roof, doors and windscreen were used. The cars achieved maximum speeds of up to 64 km/h and raced around the small pitch in breakneck curves. There were often accidents. Auto polo is no longer played, but polo on motorbikes (“Moto polo”) was developed in Rwanda in 2008 and is gaining more and more fans.
The latest sport related to polo to appear on the scene is Stand Up Paddling (SUP) polo. With SUP polo, players do not sit on ponies, but stand on a surfboard as with stand-up paddling. The paddle replaces the stick. The goals are similar to handball goals and the balls are water polo balls like those used in canoe polo. The teams comprises two to three players, with the effective playing time being 2 x 5 minutes. However, the sport is so new that there are currently no fixed rules in place.