Polo's origins, its exotic ancestry, and its storied past have contributed to a heritage rich in colourful, often arcane expressions. Its characteristics blend the words of ancient Pakistan and the British Empire, modified by American and Argentine slang. Understanding that language adds yet another dimension to an already fascinating endeavour. We present, for your enjoyment, a guide to the language of polo.
Chukka The origins of this term, meaning the "basic period of play," are obscure, although it is thought to have come from India. There are between 4 and 6 chukkas of play (dependant on the level of polo being played) - each lasting 7 minutes, 30 seconds. A bell or horn sounds at 7 minutes to warn the players. A second bell then sounds 30 seconds later to end play. The last chukka ends at 7 minutes with no extra time.
Foul An infraction of the rules set out in the Hurlingham Polo Association's Blue Book. Most fouls govern the safe riding and the concept of the line of the ball.
Goal A score which is tallied any time the ball travels between the goal posts, whether hit in by attacker, defender, or pony.
H.P.A. The Hurlingham Polo Association. The governing body of polo in theUnited Kingdom.
Handicap The comparative rating of polo players awarded by the HPA. Handicaps are expressed in goals (to describe a player's value to the team, not the number of goals he is expected to score) and range from the beginners' -2 to 10 goals (the best). Players' handicaps are added together to derive a team handicap that, in turn, is used to equalise competition. The difference in goals between two teams is awarded to the lower rated team before play begins.
Hook One of the two defensive manoeuvres (the other is the ride-off) allowed in the rules. The mallet is used to block or interfere with another player's swing at the ball, although it must be used in an approved manner. Unsafe hooking or hitting into a pony is a foul.
Hit-In A hit-in takes place when the ball goes over the back line, wide of the goal mouth. The defending team hits the ball back into play from the back line. This gives the defending team a free hit and can often change the momentum of play.
Line of the Ball The imaginary line created by the ball in its sometimes capricious travels. The line of the ball may not be crossed or infringed except in special circumstances. This is the pivotal concept on which many fouls and infractions are based - the interpretation of the line of the ball is usually what the umpires are discussing after they have blown a foul whistle.
Mallet The instrument used to move the ball. Although fibreglass has been used in its construction, the shaft is most often still made of bamboo. A hardwood head is used and the ball hit with the side of the head.
Near-Side The left side of the horse.
Off-Side The right side of the horse. By the rules, there are no left-handed polo players. You play with your right hand or you don't play.
Out of Bounds When the ball is hit over the side-lines, it is out of bounds. The clock continues to run. Teams line up at that spot and the ball is thrown in by the umpires. Deliberately hitting the ball out in the closing seconds of a match can be an excellent strategic play.
Penalties Infractions of the rules (fouls) result in penalties being awarded by the umpires to the offended team. The seriousness of the foul determines the degree of the penalty. Designated from 1 through 8, penalties usually involve a shot on goal from a predetermined spot with the clock stopped. The most common awarded are the 2, 3, 4, and 5. In a penalty 5, the ball is hit by the fouled team from midfield; in a 4, from the 60-yard line; in a 3, from the 40-yard line, and in a 2, from the 30-yard line..
Polo Ball Approximately 3-1/2 inches in diameter and 4 ounces in weight, the ball is made of hard plastic. At one time it was made of wood or willow root.
Number 1 - The most offensive player. This is similar to the forward position in hockey or soccer. This player should be an accurate hitter, but need not necessarily hit a long ball.
Number 2 - Primarily an offensive player but also responsible for defence, interchanging with the number 3 player. The number 2 player is often the second-highest rated player on the team.
Number 3 - The quarterback and play maker. The "3" is usually the highest rated and most experienced player. This player must be able to hit a long ball accurately but be capable of close-in stick work and ball control.
Number 4 - The back. This is a defensive position. However, a good back must be able to not only hit a good backshot, but to turn the play from defensive to offensive in a flash. The number 4 player is the last line of defence.
Referee The Referee, usually on foot at midfield, does not call fouls but is the final word in the case of a dispute between the two mounted umpires. The Referee is sometimes known as the "third man."
Ride-Off Similar in concept to a body-check in hockey, a ride-off is used to break an opposing player's concentration, move him off the line of the ball, or spoil his shot. A ride-off is hard and dramatic, but executed properly, does not endanger the horses.
Safety 60 A free hit. When the ball rolls over the back line wide of the goal mouth as a result of being touched by a defending man, the attacking team is allowed to hit a safety from 60 yards out to a defended goal. The clock is stopped and the ball is placed on the 60-yard line approximately in line with the spot where the ball crossed the back line.
Back Shot - Hitting the ball in a direction opposite to that in which the player is travelling.
Neck Shot - A ball hit under the neck of a pony.
Tail Shot - Hitting a ball behind the pony.
Third Man See "Referee."
Throw-In The game is started with a throw-in, whereby the ball is literally thrown in between the lined up teams by the umpire.
Umpires These are the on-field officials. Mounted on horses, the umpires wear black and white, vertically striped shirts to identify them. Most polo umpires are active players. The umpires are responsible for "enforcing the rules," and "keeping proper control over players and teams" in a sport in which tempers often run hot.