If you have ever seen a game of polo, you will know that polo players regularly switch out their horses. There is even a dedicated break in play to facilitate the switchover. The reason why players use multiple horses in every polo game is to ensure that they always have the freshest possible Horses on the field.
After all, polo is an intensive sport for horses. If they aren’t swapped out, they will start to tire. This will hamper the game. Even the smallest amount of tiredness could mean the difference between a win and a loss. Let’s take a little look in more depth.
Are Horses called Horses in polo?
For simplicity and to ensure that this article is easy to understand, we are going to use the term ‘horse’ throughout this page. However, it is important to note that in the world of polo, these horses are referred to as ‘ponies’.
They are not actually ponies. This term just came into use due to how agile the horse is. They are all going to be the same size as a horse, but they are often a touch slimmer to help with movement. It is fine if you refer to them as horses outside the world of polo!
How often are horses swapped out?
In professional polo events, it is likely that a horse will be switched out every 7-minutes. This will be at the end of a chukker (i.e. the period of play). At the end of a chukker, the polo player will have 4-minutes in which to switch the horse before they are back on the field. This means that the polo player will be switching their horse multiple times per match.
Why are they swapped out? Well, it is because the game is exceedingly fast-paced, particularly at a professional level. The dip in performance from the horse tends to hit pretty fast during a polo match. We are positive that polo players would switch out their horses multiple times in a chukker if they had the opportunity to do that.
Remember; polo ponies are often bred for short, sharp pieces of play. They are only ever bred to work at top performance for a few minutes of time, but they do it amazingly in those few short minutes.
There is no polo pony that would be able to run the entire length of the game. It would be exhausted by the end of the second chukker. This would see a dip in the actual player’s skill, and it certainly wouldn’t be an interesting sport to watch because of this.
How many horses will a polo player use during a polo match?
This is going to be dependent on the number of chukkers, of course. Most polo players will use between four and seven horses per match. However, this will not be all of the horses that they have available to them.
The average professional polo player will travel with up to 10 horses to themselves. This means that they will have a few backup horses when they are playing. This means that a full professional polo team will have up to 60 horses available to them.
Part of the job of the professional polo player will be to become familiar with the horses they own. The horses aren’t just ‘given’ to them. A polo player needs to put a lot of effort into training the horse and working out that horse’s quirks. A lot of the skill in polo is choosing the right horse for the job.
For most polo players, there will be an ‘order’ that they use their horses in. Generally speaking, the last horse that a polo player uses in their matches will be the best horse that they own. Although, this doesn’t mean that the horse they start out with is ‘awful’. It just won’t be their fastest or more agile horse. It enables the polo player to get a better feel for the game, and they will ramp things up from there.
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Can the same horse be used multiple times?
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In theory, there is nothing that can stop the same horse from being used multiple times. In fact, if a game of polo goes into ‘extra time’, the players will often choose their best horse to ride the last bit of the game out on.
That being said, it is generally not recommended to use the same horse multiple times in a professional polo match. Due to the fast-paced nature of the sport, you really want the horse to be operating at the absolute peak of their ability. If a horse is ridden for more than one chukker, the game will be impacted. Not even the best polo horses are suitable for long periods of play in a polo match.
In amateur polo events, it is highly likely that the same horse will be used multiple times. Remember; the vast majority of teams probably couldn’t afford to have fifty different fully-trained horses at their disposal. It is unlikely that they would be able to afford more than one or two horses per player. This is part of the reason as to why polo is not played anywhere near as much as in the past, and it is often reserved for the rich elite. There is simply far too much cost involved in the sport.
It is worth noting that amateur polo events are often shorter in terms of chukkers. This helps to ensure that the horses are not too tired. It also helps to keep the cost of playing polo down.
What do polo players look for in their horses?
Polo players have often suggested that the horse is vital to the way in which they play. Of course, the skill of the polo player is going to play a major role in the flow of play. However, some polo players have stated that polo is 80% horse. After all, if your horse isn’t moving properly, it doesn’t matter how skilled you are, polo is not going to go your way.
Polo players look for speed and agility in their horses. Of course, the horse also needs to be able to listen to commands while they are being ridden. In theory, just about any horse could be used for a game of polo, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that these horses are going to be any good.
In many countries, there are specific breeding programs for ‘polo ponies’. Since the average team needs to have about fifty horses, and these horses need to be suited to the game of polo, these breeding programs are exceedingly popular.
It is worth noting that while you may find a horse referred to as a ‘polo pony’, it is not a distinct breed. It is unlikely to ever be a distinct breed. This is because polo pony breeders are almost always trying to introduce new horse breeds into the gene pool. This means that no horse is ever going to be completely alike.
It is important to note that the information on this page is mostly about professional polo. Amateur polo players will often use far fewer horses in a match, mostly because the game is not as ‘fast-paced’. However, the best polo players will always be the ones that have multiple polo ponies available to use.