Polo is played all over the world in either amateur or professional form, and if you’ve ever wondered, what breed of horse is used for polo, the answer is quite simple. There are different types of polo ponies, but in the United States, most of them are either thoroughbreds or quarter horses. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in the popularity of crosses between thoroughbreds and criollo horses from Argentina.
Of course, thoroughbreds and quarter horses aren’t the most popular everywhere. For example, in Argentine Australian, stock horses are the breed used more often for polo.
Although the term “polo pony” is used to describe the horse breeds used for polo, they are not actually a breed. Instead, they are a type of horse that is agile on the field. They are not even technically ponies because most are horse-sized. “Polo ponies” is just the term given to this type of horse.
Are Other Breeds of Horses Used in the Game of Polo?
First of all, if you’re not convinced that polo is a popular sport, consider this: there are more than 100 member countries listed in the Federation of International Polo, and it is played professionally in 16 different countries.
Not only that, but polo was also a sport that was part of the Olympics until 1936, and today it is popular in countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, Germany, and many others.
Naturally, the type of horse used in polo is important, and originally Manipuri ponies were used in the game. These ponies were only 54 inches at the shoulders because there were height restrictions for polo ponies at the time.
Those restrictions were lifted in 1919, and since then, thoroughbred and thoroughbred crosses have been used in the majority of polo games in the United States and a few other locations.
Why Are These Types of Horses Chosen?
Not just any breed of horse can be used in the game of polo. In fact, these horses have to meet certain physical requirements to even be considered; most notably, they have to have intelligence, speed, and endurance.
They must have legs that are strong enough to carry all types of riders while going full speed, and they have to be able to handle stopping or turning at a moment’s notice. Today, most polo ponies stand at around 64 inches at the shoulder or higher, although sometimes smaller horses are used.
One of the reasons a thoroughbred horse makes such a popular polo pony is because of their strong hindquarters, which give the animal tremendous speed. American polo horses are usually 75% thoroughbred or better, and thanks to breeding, these horses can go at very high speeds for a very long time.
Even in England, most polo ponies are ancestors of the Rosewater horse, which is a small English thoroughbred stallion. Thoroughbreds are strong, fast, and very versatile, making them great polo horses.
Another horse used in polo is a cross between a thoroughbred and a quarter horse. The result is a horse that can go fast for long periods of time, much like standard thoroughbreds. Since quarter horses are bred to be agile because they are used for herding cows, they can use this agility to head out in different directions at the spur of the moment, making great polo ponies.
In Argentina, they use a horse that is a cross between a thoroughbred and a native Argentinian horse called the criollo. Criollo horses are working cow horses just like quarter horses, and they, too, can make quick turns and go very fast, even though they are bred specifically for endurance and not for speed. They call these mixed-breed horses Argentine-Anglo horses.
What Horses Are Considered the Best Type of Polo Horse?
Thanks to their agility, speed, and endurance, thoroughbreds are by far considered to be the best polo horses by most experts. The fact that they are often bred with quarter horses or criollo horses doesn’t diminish the importance of the thoroughbred horse because breeders are essentially mixing two horses that each have a lot of speed and endurance.
Thoroughbreds are also large horses, averaging 16 hands, which is roughly 78 inches when measured at their shoulder. Most are brown, bay, dark bay, black, chestnut, or gray in color, and believe it or not, these horses actually enjoy playing the game of polo, which is yet another one of the many reasons polo players choose this type of horse for their games.
One of the reasons no other types of horses are used for polo games is because polo ponies have to meet certain requirements, most of which have already been mentioned. If the horse isn’t strong, fast, agile, and with good endurance, it simply cannot become a polo horse regardless of how much you train them and work with them.
Thoroughbreds, for all practical purposes, are natural-born polo ponies, and with just a little bit of training, they become extraordinary ones, which is why you see them so often at polo games.
Are Polo Ponies Male or Female Horses?
Most polo ponies are mares, and they are preferred over gelded males for numerous reasons. Some of these reasons have credibility, while others are just based on tradition.
For example, many riders believe that mares are built better and have softer tempers, which makes them great polo ponies. This is not backed up by science but is still considered a fact by many polo experts. It is a fact, however, that many mares make good money as breeders. A lot of the time, polo players’ incomes come partly from breeding the horses. These people often sell their colts and then keep the fillies for their breeding farms.
Furthermore, since temperament is so important when choosing a polo pony, and since mares often do have better temperaments than males do, these female horses are often chosen to be polo horses. So, there are several reasons why mares are chosen most often for polo ponies, although males are still used part of the time.
What Does it Take to Train Thoroughbreds?
Most thoroughbreds or thoroughbred crosses are trained starting at the age of three, and the training can last anywhere from six months to two years. Since most horses are considered fully mature physically around the age of five, this training occurs at the perfect time and makes the most of the horse’s physical ability.
Training is important because, in polo games, a well-trained horse can account for 60% to 75% of the player’s skill level, due to the fact that it will carry the rider quickly yet smoothly to where the ball is. This isn’t to say that the rider doesn’t need any skills, of course, but the better the horse is trained, the more it contributes to that skill and therefore to the team’s success.
Here’s an FYI: ponies reach their peak of training and physical ability at around age 6 or 7; however, if they aren’t involved in any accidents, many polo ponies can play until they are 18 or 20 years old.
Polo ponies don’t always play the entire game, though, because of the rules of the game state that each player must have more than one pony so that each horse doesn’t get too tired from the event. This might be one contributing factor in how many years the horses are able to play.