Just got an invitation to watch your first polo game at the Guards Polo Club, Cowdray Park or some other equally daunting venue? Have no fear, this is all you need to know to hold your own while necking a flute of champagne.
ONLY FOOLS AND PONIES
The first thing you’ll need to know is that two teams of four players on ponies each try to score as many goals as possible. Most polo matches are divided into four ‘chukkas’ of seven minutes each and the players will change ponies for each chukka. This is the name for a period of play and is thought to derive from the Hindu word for table – which doesn’t really help much, especially since polo originated in Persia.
Each time a team scores a goal (by putting a hard, white plastic ball travelling at speeds of 110 mph through the goal posts), the teams switch sides.
HOLD ON, DID YOU SAY PONIES?
You might think that if polo is the ‘Sport of Kings’, then surely kings can afford proper-sized horses. But, whatever you do, don’t call the equine animals on the polo field horses. In the world of polo, they are referred to as ponies – even though they are, in fact, horses by height.
IT’S NOT GOLF AND IT’S NOT CROQUET
Polo might involve handicaps and mallets, but that is where the similarities end. All polo players carry a handicap between -2 and 10. Players with a handicap of 2 and above are normally professional. The best players in the world are mostly Argentinian – feel free to drop the family name Heguy (Bautista, Ignacio and Marcos are all 10-goal players) anytime you like.
HOW HARD IS POLO?
Polo is a dangerous sport, and not just financially. This is why players wear helmets (often with a face guard) as well as rather fetching knee-pads. And there’s a lot of testosterone flying around on the pitch, so don’t expect the level of competitiveness to be anything less than brutal.
At half-time, spectators are invited to wander all over the field for a bout of ‘divot stomping’, which involves flattening the turf torn up by the ponies’ sharp hooves. If you’re the type to slow down near a car crash, you might be well advised to follow the ladies (and men) in the highest heels, as they are bound to come a cropper at some point.
MAXIMUM BLUFFING VALUE
At 300 yards long by 160 yards wide, the polo field is roughly the size of nine American football pitches and more than twice the size of the average cricket ground. Polo therefore has the largest playing area of any ball game with the exception of golf.
DO SAY ‘Great mallet action’ or ‘Smashing neck shot’.
DON’T SAY ‘Is Prince Harry playing today?’