Horses used in the game of polo (known as “ponies” although many are full-sized horses) are asked to sprint at top speed, turn sharply, make sudden stops, stay balanced while riders shift their weight far out of center, and even run into other horses to gain an advantageous position. The nature of the game puts both ponies and players in a position to sustain injuries.
Researchers in the UK conducted a study among players and owners of polo ponies, using questionnaires and telephone interviews to collect data about injuries and risk factors, including preseason training as well as any injuries sustained during play. Only injuries requiring treatment by a veterinarian were considered to be significant for the purpose of this study.
Results showed that polo ponies sustained tendon injuries, wounds, and splints, but the rate of injury was no greater than for horses engaged in some other athletic disciplines. Playing on hard ground was seen as an important risk factor. Players reported that they minimized the risk of injury by bandaging the ponies’ legs before exercise, checking tendons, and using cold hosing, bandaging, and clays or other coolants after exercise. Players did not consider cuts and wounds to be frequent occurrences, though these injuries accounted for more than 20% of incidents treated by veterinarians. Just over 12% of injuries were splints, which can be caused by concussion on hard ground and also by sudden stops and turns made at faster gaits.