Polo Players Edition

NOV 2011

Polo Players' Edition is the official publication of the U.S. Polo Association. Dedicated to the sport of polo, it features player profiles, game strategy, horse care, playing tips, polo club news and tournament results.

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I N S TR U C T O R S F O R BY TOM GOODSPEED U M SIZE MATTERS The smaller, the better with polo ponies (I mean horses!) W e still call them polo ponies, because at one time in the history of our great game, pony size (less than 14.2 hands) was not only desired, it was required. Thirty years later, the size requirement was dropped. Today you would be hard pressed to find a true pony playing polo, aside from kids polo. Most all mounts on the field are now horses, but we still often reference them as our ponies, and call them polo ponies. I am guessing ponies were prefered because they were easier to handle and easier to hit off of. So why would players transition to horses? Could it be because of McDonald's french fries and Big Macs? All kidding aside, I am fairly certain the ponies didn't hold up so well with the physical requirements of the game while carrying the weight of larger, mostly adult, male riders. Even though a smaller, steadier horse is a bit easier to hit off of and maneuver, the larger, equally-handled mount would dominate the ride-offs. So, it doesn't matter if the pony is easier to hit off of if you can't get to the ball against a larger mount. The smaller, compact, ranch-style Argentine Thoroughbred tends to be the horse of choice for most today. The reason is pretty straightforward. There is less horse to control, normally better handling due to their shorter coupling (overall length), and they are generally easier to hit off of. However, if you come up against a bigger American thoroughbred horse that handles and bumps equally as well, the bigger horse will usually dominate the play. That said, a larger horse can be easier to hit off of than a small high-spirited, jumpy horse, and a small, powerful horse can be better at ride-offs than 12 POLO PLAYERS EDITION a larger, lethargic horse. I am offering longer-strided. A generalities as there are always exceptions to the rules. The larger horse is usually, but not always, bigger stride often translates into greater speed on the 300-yard dash. But, when you get to the end of the field, how quick is your horse to get back around? An enormous amount of measuring horses. A hand is pretty much the width of the average human hand—about four inches. So a 15.1 hand horse is 61 inches, or 5 feet 1 inch. The average polo pony is just over 5 feet speed won't help much if you aren't able to carry the ball, much less get your mallet down, and score consistently. You will be the one off the end of the field making rather large crop circles while the rest are back to the next play. A more compact horse is usually easier to get around. Most players are better off on a horse with more handle and a shorter-stride, as opposed to having more speed. And the ranch-type horse is usually a bit more level-minded than the Thoroughbred off the racetrack. That is largely due to the fact that ranch Thoroughbreds are often broke around cattle, and get very familiar with many of the similar activities that a horse will experience with polo, like being in close quarters with other animals, shoving and pushing, and having a rope being thrown near their head. These activities translate very well to the polo field. In contrast, the Thoroughbred coming off the track is not as exposed to all of the ranch activities. They are saddle broke and then asked to run hard in one direction. There aren't any races with large purses for stopping on a racetrack. Now back to horse size. You might wonder, how big is that brown one over there—5 feet 10 inches? Actually, horses are measured in "hands," the universal system of tall, so why do most of us look up to them? Horses are measured from the ground to the top of their withers as they stand on all fours. The wither is the bone at the base of the neck, just at the front of the saddle. Some horses have very large withers, which is great for keeping the saddle centered, but not so great for wither sores or bareback riding. I learned that one the hard way. When a guy rides a horse with a big wither bareback, and it stops a little too quickly, you'll suddenly hear the guy speaking in that high-pitched Mickey Mouse voice that comes from deep down. Anyway, a horse with no withers is a challenge to keep the saddle from slipping. So, as with everything in life, somewhere in the middle is optimal for wither size. Why do they measure from the withers instead of the head, like us? I don't know the answer so this is only a guess, but maybe it was more practical to count hand over hand from the ground to the withers rather than from the top of the head or tip of the ears. If anyone knows the real answer, I'd be interested to hear what it is. So, 15.2 hands is just about the ideal height for the reasons already listed. The bigger the rider, in height or width, the larger the horse should be. It is the same when you are renting a car. If you need to carry more luggage, you look for a suburban. The more the horse is expected to pack, the bigger the pack horse.

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