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Spectator Guide

“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, former 10-goal player

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.

Anatomy of the Game

Field of Play 

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.



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



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. 

Direction of Play

Direction of Play

The initial direction of each team is chosen based on a coin toss at the beginning of the game. Teams move in the direction of their goal until the first goal is scored, after which teams switch goals. Direction is changed after each goal is scored. In arena polo, the direction is only changed after each chukker.

How to Score

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.

Divot Stomp

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.

Types of Shots
Did you know? Polo is the only sport where amateurs and professionals can play side by side at the highest level of play.

Right-Handed Player Only

Right-Handed Player Only

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.

One Player - Many Teams

One Player - Many Teams

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.

Sponsorship & Team Owners

Sponsorship & Team Owners

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.

Player Positioning


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 threeNumber 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.

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


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.


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. The game will resume with a penalty hit from the center of the field (Penalty 5.b) awarded to the fouled team and a change in direction.

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; 5.a or 5.b. (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

Occurs when a player hits the ball over their own end line. A penalty will be hit from a spot 60 yards from the end line opposite where the ball crossed the end line, but no more than 40 yards from the center of the 60-yard line.

A penalty may be called for any number of reasons, but Right of Way (ROW) 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 


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.

Spectators Welcome

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.





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