SHERIDAN — Carlos Galindo has been coming to Flying H Polo Club for the past seven years but not to compete in the tournaments. Instead, Galindo officiates most of the polo matches.
Galindo said he was a professional polo player and reached a five-goal handicap at the height of his career. As his body started to age, Galindo was not ready to step away from the game completely.
“As you get older, it is like a second life to polo,” Galindo said. “You are not able to play top quality polo, but you are able to umpire the top games. For me it is great; I can still make a living doing something I love.”
Umpiring polo has many of the same responsibilities as other sports — maintaining the safety of the game, controlling the pace of the game and dealing with players.
The rules of polo are set up with safety in mind. The safety of the horse takes top priority when officiating polo. Galindo said the main foul to look for in polo is players crossing the line of the ball or breaking the right of way. Both rules are established to prevent collisions on the field.
Line of the ball is established after a player hits the ball. Galindo said the line is from point A, where the ball was hit, to point B, where the ball stops. The player that hit the ball will start on the left side of the line, putting the ball on the right side of the horse and player. Players hold mallets in their right hand, no exceptions.
When this line is established, Galindo said umpires will watch to make sure players do not cross the line perpendicular when players are approaching the ball. If they do, a foul is called and a penalty shot is awarded. To judge if a player breaks the line one umpire will move into position behind the play, seeing if anyone crosses the line, and the second umpire will stay level with the ball to watch distance between the player heading down the line and the ball.
As long as the distance is large enough, a defender can intercept the ball without fear of breaking the line and drawing a foul. With polo field dimensions being 300 yards long and 160 yards wide, umpires are not always in close proximity to one another. To be able to break this communication barrier, Galindo said umpires will use radios to communicate.
If the two umpires ever disagree on a call, a third official — called the third man — that watches from the sideline will be used to settle the disagreement. Galindo said the third man’s decision is the final decision.
Umpires will also communicate if they want to have a no call. Just like in soccer, Galindo said umpires may let a foul if the offensive player does not lose the advantage on the play. This allows the pace of play to remain consistent, preventing unnecessary stoppage. Most players prefer to score from the field instead of taking a penalty shot, Galindo said.
Being a former professional player, Galindo understands a game that is played on animals that can cover large distances quickly. With many fouls relying on the judgment of the umpire, it is important that umpires know and understand the game as a player.
“I think polo is a little different than any other sport,” Galindo said. “A big part of umpiring is being able to play polo and being able to judge distance with horses.”
Being a former professional player helps with officiating, Galindo said. Other officials at the Flying H also participate as players in the tournaments during the summer.
With polo being a fast-paced game, players will use a new horse each chukker, sometimes changing horses in the middle of the game. Galindo said umpires will use multiple horses in a polo match to keep up with the action. Galindo will use two horses at the Flying H during the six chukker matches, one in each half. When he officiates the high goal polo matches in Florida, he will use three horses in a match, subbing every other chukker. Fresh horses allow umpires to keep up with the action and be in the correct position to make the right calls.
Being an umpire is not always fun. Like any sport, players will not agree with every call an umpire makes. Galindo said umpires learn how to handle upset players. It is a balance of treating the players with respect and maintaining control of a game when tempers flare.
Galindo said polo has started working with other sports, like basketball, football and soccer, to learn how they manage athletes on the field. These sports are ahead of polo with the organization of officials and referees. Galindo said these sports have done a great job creating consistency of rules across all levels and nations and has been a focus for polo and its umpires for the past 20 years.
By modeling clinics and training after the other sports, the officiating of polo has greatly improved over the last 20 years, Galindo said. Rules have become consistent across all levels and internationally. Galindo said a player could play in the U.S., England and Argentina within the same year and creating uniform rules allows players to have the same experience no matter where they play.