While the popularity of horse racing is apparent, the attention on another sport involving ponies is on the rise.
Polo — the team sport played on horseback, not in the water — is gaining momentum as a spectator sport in Australia’s capital cities, not just in the country.
As with horse racing, the polo attracts the social set who like to be seen on the lawn. The Land Rover Polo in the City is on this Saturday in Sydney’s Centennial Park. If you’re attending, brush up on some polo facts and history before you go.
Polo was invented 2,500 years ago as a cavalry training exercise — not as a spectator sport — and remarkably little has changed over the years with the traditional game.
The tradition of wearing white pants dates back to the nineteenth century when Indian royals played in the heat, hence the preference for fabrics that were light in colour and weight.
Divot-stomping at half-time is not just for show. It is actually a very important crowd activity, as it does genuinely restore the field for the players and horses.
Polo ponies are not actually ponies, but rather a specific horse bred for polo, usually a cross between a quarter horse and a thoroughbred.
Polo can only be played using the right hand. This is because the rules of the game revolve around the same principle as driving along a highway. Namely, when a ball is hit it creates an invisible line that players advancing from opposing sides cannot cross. If one advancing player were to approach using his left hand and the other with his right hand, a head-on collision would occur.
“Throw-in”, as simple as it sounds, is a term used to start a play. One of two umpires or even a guest of honour at the match tosses the polo ball up between two teams of four players.
Although most of us are familiar with equine polo, few may be aware of the other less mainstream codes of polo that exist across the world. Other than Urban, Arena, Snow and Beach Polo, other variations of the sport that combine man and beast include Donkey, Camel, Yak & Elephant polo. Further mechanical variations include bicycle and Segway polo.
The term “Chukker” is not to be confused with having a tantrum or throwing around sharp objects – polo matches are divided into periods of play known as chukkers.
Celebrities and VIPs who play or have played polo include Will Rogers, Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Walt Disney, as well as the President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In fact, the latter coined the famous phrase “Polo is a passport to the world”. Celebrity polo players of the modern era include Princes William and Harry Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Lee Jones, Ashton Kutcher, Jodie Kidd and Brad Pitt.
Jordan Lamaison is Polo in the City’s ‘hottest’ polo player this year — although he, like the vast majority of Aussie players need to supplement their polo careers with other jobs. Jordan does a bit of modelling on the side as well.
Polo in the City is celebrating its 10th year and was invented here in Australia as a new code of polo known as ‘Urban Polo’ with its own rules, its own governing body etc. The rules and field have been changed to make it more appealing to spectators.
The Land Rover Polo in the City series, on this Saturday in Sydney, attracts in excess of 15,000 guests, making it the largest national polo series globally. The largest single event is the Argentine Open which attracts approximately 10,000 people to the final.