Polo ponies, most of which are actually full-grown horses, have to be fast above all else if they are to be good at playing a game of polo. But just how fast do they need to be?
In an average polo game, polo ponies can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, which is extraordinary when you consider how much they do during each seven-minute period, or chukker. During the six chukkers included in a polo game, it is possible for these ponies to cover three miles or so, which is a lot of running.
In fact, many experts consider polo ponies to be the hardest-working players on the polo field, and indeed, the hardest workers compared to players in many other sports as well. Speed and stamina are the two most important characteristics a horse needs before being chosen as a polo pony, which is why not just any horse is chosen for this important task.
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Which Types of Horses Are Considered Good Polo Ponies?
First of all, the term “polo ponies” is a little misleading because most of the time, they aren’t ponies but adult horses. The term got its start many years ago when there was a size restriction on the horses, which means a lot of them actually were just ponies. However, since the size restriction was eliminated in the early 1900s, this is no longer the case. Most polo ponies, in fact, are either thoroughbreds or thoroughbreds bred with either quarter horses or criollo horses, and there are plenty of reasons why.
Polo horses need three things to be good at what they do: speed, agility, and endurance. Thoroughbred horses have all three of these characteristics, and both quarter horses and criollos have at least two out of three of these. According to the rules, players can choose any type of horse they wish to play with them, but since most players want to win, they go with the fastest horse possible, which is almost always either a thoroughbred or a thoroughbred cross.
Of course, occasionally other horses will pop up in a polo game, mostly notably Manipur ponies, Arabian horses, Australian stock horses, and mountain ponies from the Himalayas. But again, thoroughbreds are much faster and have more stamina than any of these horses, and when you combine that with their personalities, you’ll understand why most polo ponies are indeed thoroughbreds.
Simply put, thoroughbreds have been bred to race and therefore, their speed and stamina are part of their personality. Their personalities, especially those belonging to the mares, are just right for polo because they enjoy the game, work with their riders and supplement their riders’ skills, are easily trained for the game of polo, and aren’t so independent that they try to take over while they’re out on the field playing.
The speed of a thoroughbred comes from their hind legs, which are extremely strong, making this the perfect breed for the sport of polo. Again, with thoroughbreds having the capability to run up to 30 miles per hour, this fact alone is a great reason why they are chosen so often for this sport.
Are There Other Reasons Why Polo Ponies Are So Fast?
Yet another reason why polo ponies are so fast is because they usually do not play the entire period but instead, they play only part of it. These days, players can bring around 10 horses or more to a polo match, in part because the ponies will not tire out and because it is just better overall for the horse’s health. Polo ponies get breaks during the game, in other words, which allows them to give it all they’ve got and run at super-fast speeds while they’re out on the field.
As you can imagine, there are people who like this rule and those who do not, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both sides. As a general rule, however, polo ponies are used only for short periods of time, which means they can give it their all and run super fast each time they go out on the polo field.
Do Polo Ponies Need Any Type of Special Care to Be Fast Racers?
Since thoroughbreds and polo ponies in general have to be fast as well as have stamina, horse-owners – who are often polo participants as well – have to take good care of them day after day. Some of the most important things to remember when taking care of your thoroughbred include:
- As a general rule, you should ride the horse and/or train it a minimum of two to three times per week. Think of your horse as an athlete, and as such, they need to get regular exercise and training to prepare for the big day. Exercise is extremely important to a thoroughbred’s ability to win polo matches and stay safe at the same time. This is the only way to make sure it is ready for the next match.
- Feeding the horse is also important and usually requires giving it both grain and hay on a regular basis. Just like humans, horses need proper nutrition to look and feel their best, especially because this is just what’s needed for the horse to be its healthiest both physically and emotionally.
- Every four to eight weeks, your horse needs a visit from a farrier who can trim their hooves and nail on their horseshoes so that they are better prepared for the next polo match. In addition, regular veterinarian visits are a must to keep these horses good and healthy all the time.
As far as preparing your horse specifically for the race, the main thing to remember is to take good care of your horse in between races and to make sure your horse gets fitted with saddles, bridles, leg wraps, and so on, that fit and which are comfortable for it.
Polo ponies have to be fully prepared in every way for every race they participate in, and many riders also make sure the ponies’ tails are tied and taped up and their manes are shaved off. Oddly enough, these are things that can make the horse run fastest because they can limit wind resistance and eliminate precious seconds that can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
Polo ponies, especially thoroughbreds, travel at high speeds of up to 30 miles per hour and therefore make great horses for the sport of polo, but that doesn’t mean they do it all on their own. There are things that directly affect the speed they use on the field, and a lot of it has to do with the care they get in between games.
Again, thoroughbreds work hard and use up a lot of energy on the field, so they need to be well taken care of by providing them with excellent nutrition, plenty of exercise, and regular visits to the vet to make sure they are as healthy as they can be. Even if you know these horses won’t be competing the entire length of the match, it is still best to do things you know will increase their speed once they finally get there.
Polo ponies are perhaps the most important part of any polo match, so it is imperative that you treat these animals the way they deserve to be treated so they can help you win polo matches for many years to come.