Polo by the numbers: Here’s what GPS technology reveals

A New Zealand study has used GPS technology to unearth fresh insights into polo, revealing how player handicap levels influence the distances covered, speeds achieved and high-intensity play required from their horses.

Russ Best and Regan Standing, from the Waikato Institute of Technology, carried out their study in the country’s North Island during the 2018–2019 polo season.

Polo is played by two teams of four players on a field that is 150 meters wide by 275 meters long.

Each player is rated on a handicap system (−2 to +10) that quantifies their abilities and permits their inclusion in different levels of play. The cumulative handicap of the four players sets the level of play.

Best and Standing used GPS technology to get data on a total of 338 chukkas of outdoor field polo.

A box-plot of the median distance (in metres) per chukka at each level of play. Lower and upper box boundaries are at the 25th and 75th percentiles. Image: Best et al. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9070446

All players had a current New Zealand Polo Association handicap ranging from −2 to +7 goals.

The gathered GPS information was divided into chukkas and five equine-based speed zones, grouped per cumulative player handicap (that’s the handicap of each player in a team, added together) and assessed using standardized average differences.

The results pointed to the increasing demands placed on polo ponies at higher levels of the game. As the cumulative polo handicap increased, so too did the distances and average speeds attained, decelerations performed and impacts encountered during each period of play.

“These findings highlight increased cardiovascular, anaerobic and speed based physiological demands on polo ponies as playing level increases,” the pair reported in the open-access journal Animals.

A box-plot of the median average speed (kmh) per chukka at each level of play. Lower and upper box boundaries 25th and 75th percentiles, respectively. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9070446

“These findings suggest that as each player improves and increases their handicap, they will need to ensure the ponies they play have sufficient aerobic, anaerobic and speed capacities to perform effectively at that level.

“Strategies such as high-intensity interval training, maximal speed work and aerobic conditioning may be warranted to facilitate this development and improve pony welfare and performance.”

They said their findings provide valuable insights for polo players, grooms and equine vets, as to how they can best prepare their ponies for game-day and how they may be able to maintain pony longevity in the sport.

The Spatiotemporal Characteristics of 0–24-Goal Polo
Russ Best and Regan Standing
Animals 2019, 9(7), 446; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9070446

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