Polo Game Spectator Guide | How to Play Polo | U.S. POLO ASSN.

Sport Of Polo



POLO 101

"Beyond all else, however, it is the basic feelings of intensity of playing a sport like ice-hockey-on-horses, running around at speeds of up to thirty mph, that I am addicted to. It makes me feel alive"- Adam Snow

Polo is a breathtaking exhibition of teamwork and coordination between horse and rider, without an understanding of the game’s progression however, it can sometimes be difficult to follow. Whether you are refreshing your polo knowledge or experiencing polo for the first time, reference our spectator guide below for a breakdown of key game concepts and common terminology to help fans understand what makes the polo experience so unique.


o Field of Play

A full-sized outdoor, or grass, playing field is 300 by 160-yards, approximately the area of nine football fields. The arena, or indoor, playing field is considerably smaller, measuring 300 by 150 feet.

o Objective

Drive the ball between the opponent’s goal posts and score the most goals to win the game.

o Chukkers

A polo match generally lasts one to two hours and is divided into periods called chukkers, which last seven and a half minutes each. Excluding overtime, a polo game, outdoor or indoor, consists of between four and six chukkers, depending on tournament stipulations.

o How to score

Goals are awarded by handicap, or during play from either the field or penalty opportunities (Outdoor Rule 19). Handicap goals are given, for example, when the tournament is a 12- to 14-goal and a 14-goal team is playing a 12-goal team. The lower rated team will receive goals in handicap at the onset of the game. The number of goals is calculated by multiplying one-sixth of the difference between the two teams by the number of chukkers.

o Divot stomp

At halftime, it is customary to invite the spectators onto the grass field to help replace the divots kicked up by the horses hooves. This tradition is a great time to walk the field, take photos and socialize before the second half of the game. Depending on the club there may be a champagne toast or other free giveaways.


Players are allowed to hit the ball from either side of the horse. You may hear the announcer point out a few specific shots, so be on the look out for these:

o Nearside – left-hand side/A nearside backshot is hit on the left side of the horse and propels the ball in the opposite direction.

o Offside – right-hand side

o Neckshot – Hitting the ball underneath the horse’s neck from either side

o Backshot – Backhand swing propelling the ball in the opposite direction

o Pony goal – When the ball bounces off the horse and into the goal


All players, even left-handed, must carry the mallet in their right hand at all times for safety reasons. The only exception to this rule is left-handers registered with the USPA prior to January 1, 1974.


Compared to other sports, polo players switch teams frequently and are hired per tournament or season. They do not belong to one team year-round, but often play with many, giving them the opportunity to play with or against a wide variety of players across the United States and internationally. Teams also benefit from this structure by allowing them the flexibility to enter different tournament levels. Polo is the only sport where amateurs and professionals can play side by side at the highest level of play.


Each team is named for their particular sponsor which funds the players’ polo-related expenses while on the team. The team owner, either male or female, usually refers to the individual person who is involved with the sponsorship and often plays on the team with the professionals he/she hired.



Each team member is assigned a number from one to four, which is worn on their uniform. A player’s jersey number reflects the position they play, with each number indicating a different objective.

Positions one and two are the forwards, or attacking offensive players. They must be able to hit the ball accurately and powerfully on goal. Position three is the pivot position and is comparable to a quarterback in football. It is an attacking position usually filled by the best player on the team. This position is typically the team captain and is tasked with hitting the ball up field to positions one and two. Position four, or back, focuses on defense and moves the ball up field to the team’s offensive players.


Each player is assigned a number from one to three. Number one assumes the most offensive position on the team. Number two acts as the quarterback, responsible for field advantage and game strategy. Number three is often the hardest defensive worker on the team.


A handicap is a rating given to a player to indicate his/her skill level relative to another player. Provided to actively Registered Player Members of the USPA, handicaps are expressed as “goals” that range on a scale from C (-2) to 10, with 10 being the highest. These ratings are unrelated to the number of goals a player scores, but rather reflect a player’s skill, horsemanship, strategic ability, knowledge of polo, team play and sportsmanship. Twice per year handicaps are reviewed and can change either up or down the scale dependent on these factors. For example, a 4-goal player has a handicap of four.


There are four rating types: Outdoor, Arena, Women’s Outdoor and Women’s Arena. A player may have more than one rating, but not necessarily all four. The specific handicap which is applied to tournament play is determined by type and if teams are co-ed or women only.

Did you know? The Women’s Handicap system was created by Sunny Hale.


Get up to speed with frequently used polo lingo.

· On the flat - When teams do not receive a handicap difference in goals to start a game. For example, an 11-goal team wouldn’t gain any goals to start if playing against a 12-goal team when playing “on the flat.”

· Goals on handicap – When goals are awarded to the lower-rated team at the onset of a game based on the handicap matrix.

· Bowl-in/throw-in – When the umpire tosses the ball underhand between two teams at center field to begin the chukker, after each goal, or from the sidelines to resume play after the ball has bounced out of bounds.

· Knock-in – When a team hits the ball from its endline after a goal miss from the opposing team.

· Line of the Ball (LOB) – Imaginary line of the ball produced forward or backward at any moment.

· Right of Way (ROW) - Exists between two or more players in the proximity of the ball and extends ahead of the players entitled to it and in the direction those players are riding.

Ride off – When two opponents ride their mounts at full gallop next to each other and make contact or bump in an attempt to push each other off the line of the ball.

· Hook – When a player attempts to block the mallet of an opponent to prevent a shot.


Often when an umpire blows the whistle during a chukker a foul has occurred and the play stops. Other reasons play may stop can include but are not limited to a horse or rider injury or a tack time out. Announcer commentary on the USPA Polo Network livestream can be helpful for understanding infractions.

· Penalty 1-Player commits dangerous or deliberate foul in vicinity of goal in order to save a goal. The team fouled is awarded an automatic goal.

· Penalty 2- A penalty hit by the team fouled from the center of the 30-yard line nearest the fouling team’s goal or from the spot where the foul occurred.

· Penalty 3- Penalty hit by the team fouled from the center of the 40-yard line nearest the fouling team’s goal.

· Penalty 4-Free hit at the ball by the team fouled from the center of the 60-yard line nearest the fouling team’s goal.

· Penalty 5 – There are two designations for a Penalty 5; 5a or 5b. (a) hit from the spot where the ball was when foul occurred, but four yards from boards or sidelines (b) penalty hit from the center of the field

· Penalty 6 or safety – when player hits the ball over their own endline

A penalty may be called for any number of reasons, but right of way and ride off violations are most common.

· ROW calls may include but are not limited to the following: turning across the ROW, blocking the ROW, impeding the ROW, and ROW violation.

· Ride off calls may include: Uneven ride off, illegal ride off, uneven speed on ride off, too much angle

· Other calls may include: Delay of game, dangerous riding, reaching, dangerous use of mallet



· Ball – In outdoor polo the ball is typically about the size of a baseball (3 to 3.5 inches in diameter) and made of hard, white plastic. It weighs between 3.5 and 4.5 ounces. In arena polo, the ball is larger and inflated, similar in size to a mini soccer ball.

· Mallet- The mallet is 48 to 54 inches long depending on the height of the pony and the reach of the player. Resembling a long stick, the mallet is made of bamboo with a hand grip similar to a tennis racquet. A cloth safety strap at the top wraps around the player’s thumb to prevent the mallet from slipping.

· Helmet – Players are required to wear a protective helmet secured by a chin strap.

· Safety glasses – Protective eyewear often worn to shield the eyes from flying debris or injury.

· White pants – It is customary for all players to wear white pants often embroidered on the thigh.

· Knee guards – Padded protective equipment worn by players on their knees made of leather.

· Polo boots – Players wear leather boots that extend up to the knee to protect the foot, ankle and lower leg.


· Roached mane and tied tail– The mane of a polo pony is shaved and tail wrapped to prevent entanglement with the mallet.

· Polo wraps – Leg wraps, made of a synthetic felt-like material, serve two purposes: protecting the horses’ legs from injury and providing support.

· Tack – Refers to the equipment which goes on the horse, including bridles, bits, saddles and other pieces.


· Historically spectators used polo events to express themselves fashionably, in contemporary polo spectating however dress often depends on the type of polo you are attending, whether it be a casual tailgate, practice or ticketed Sunday polo. It is advised to contact the individual club before attending if you’ve never been, but generally casual clothes are acceptable. Often spectators can drive up on the side of the field and tailgate with friends and family for a fun afternoon. Attire for Sunday polo can be dressy, with men wearing collared shirts and women wearing dresses. Wedges are preferred over heels as a slim heel will get stuck in the grass if you participate in the divot stomp.

· Remember to always be alert and aware of your surroundings. Sometimes a flying ball can find itself out of bounds and headed in the direction of spectators.

· Stay behind the designated line often visible on the outside of the sideboards because this is the true boundary. The playing field extends beyond the sideboards several feet and horses will jump over the boards so stay clear and make sure children are always supervised.

· Tune into the announcer’s commentary, if available, for real-time explanation of penalties and elements of the game to familiarize yourself while watching. Also, stream the USPA Polo Network livestream, if applicable, to hear commentary for any covered games without an announcer on site.


Check out the “tournaments” tab to access the tournament calendar and navigate by year or month. All USPA tournaments that are open to spectators can be found there and will be indicated. Spectator clubs host many games during their seasons which are open to the public, both free and ticketed.