Polo is arguably the oldest recorded team sport in known history, with the first matches being played in Persia over 2500 years ago. Initially thought to have been created by competing tribes of Central Asia, it was quickly taken up as a training method for the King’s elite cavalry. These matches could resemble a battle with up to 100 men to a side. 

As mounted armies swept back and forth across this part of the world, conquering and re-conquering, polo was adopted as the most noble of pastimes by the Kings and Emperors, Shahs and Sultans, Khans and Caliphs of the ancient Persians, Arabs, Mughals, Mongols and Chinese. It was for this reason it became known across the lands as "the game of kings". 

British officers themselves re-invented the game in 1862 after seeing a horsemanship exhibition in Manipur, India. The sport was introduced into England in 1869, and seven years later sportsman James Gordon Bennett imported it to the United States. After 1886, English and American teams occasionally met for the International Polo Challenge Cup. Polo was on several Olympic games schedules, but was last an Olympic sport in 1936. 

Polo continues, as it has done for so long, to represent the pinnacle of sport, and reaffirms the special bond between horse and rider. The feeling of many of its players are epitomized by a famous verse inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit, Pakistan: "Let others play at other things. The king of games is still the game of kings."
Source: pro-polo.com

Quote from Xenophon


·    The Basics: Polo is a ball sport, played on horses. Where one team attempts to score goals by hitting hard hockey-sized ball through their oppositions' goal with a mallet attached to the end of a 4 1/4 foot stick.

·    The Pitch: The outdoor polo field is 300 yards long and 160 yards wide, the largest field in organized sport. The goal posts at each end are 24 feet apart and a minimum of 10 feet high. Penalty lines are marked at 30 yards from the goal, 40 yards, 60 yards, and at midfield.

·    Chukkas: Each polo match is divided in to "Chukkas". A chukka is 7 1/2 minutes of active play time and is supposed to represent the amount of time a horse can reasonably exert itself before needing a rest. Polo Matches are divided into 4,5, or 6 Chukkas depending whether the level is Low, Medium, or High goal polo.

·    Players: In outdoor polo there is four players on a team. Numbers 1 - 2 are traditionally attacking whilst 3 is the midfield playmaker and 4 is Defense. However as the sport is so fluid there are no definite positions in Polo.

·    Handicaps: Handicaps in Polo range from -2 to 10 "goals". With 10 being the best. A player who is playing above his handicap level (i.e. 3 playing as a 5) is known as a bandit, and is a very valuable but short lived commodity. Handicaps are assessed and independently mediated several times during the season.

·    Umpires: Two mounted umpires, referee the game. They must agree on each foul/call made, if they disagree they refer to the "3rd Man" who would be on the edge of the pitch in line with the center mark. His decision will settle the argument.

·    The Rules: The Rules of polo are centered almost in totality around safety. When you have 1/2 a ton of horse traveling one way in excess of 30mph, you do not want to be hit by 1/2 a ton of horse traveling in excess of 30 mph the other way. Polo is inherently dangerous, which may be part of the allure; however, the rules go a long way to negate risk.


"The King of Games" - Let other people play at other things. The King of Games is still the Game of Kings.

This verse, inscribed on a stone tablet beside a polo ground South of the fables silk route from China to the West, sums up the ancient history of what is believed to be the oldest organized sport in the world. Polo was truly a game of Kings, for most of its reputed 2,500 years or more of existence. Although the precise origin of polo is obscure and undocumented, there is ample evidence of the game's regal place in the history of
Asia. No one knows where or when stick first met ball after the horse was domesticated by the tribes of Central Asia, but it seems likely that as the use of light cavalry spread throughout Asia Minor, China and the Indian sub-continent so did this rugged game on horse back. As mounted Armies swept back and forth across this part of the world, conquering and re-conquering, polo was adopted as the most noble of pastimes by the Kings and Emperors, Shahs and Sultans, Khans and Caliphs of the ancient Persians, Arabs, Mughals, Mongols and Chinese. The great rulers and their horsemen real and legendary, of those early centuries were expected to be brave warriors, skillful hunters and polo players of exceptional prowess.

Some scholars believe that polo originated among the Iranian tribes sometime before Darius-I and his cavalry forged the first great Persian Empire in the 6th century B.C. Certainly it is Persian literature and art which give us the richest accounts of polo in antiquity. Firdausi, the most famous of Persia’s poet-historian, gives a number of accounts of royal polo tournaments in his 9th century epic, Shahnamah. Some believe that the Chinese (the Mongols) were the first to try their hands at the game. In the earliest account, Firdausi romanticizes an international match between Turanian force and the followers of Syavoush, a legendary Persian ruler from the earliest centuries of the Empire. The poet is eloquent in his praise of Syavoush's skills on the polo field. Firdausi also tells of Sapor-II Sassanid, King of the 4th Century A.D., who learn to play polo when he was only seven years old. Another 9th century historian, Dinvari, describes polo and its general rules and gives some instructions to players including such advice as 'polo requires a great deal of exercise’, ‘if polo stick breaks during a game it is a sign of inefficiency' and 'a player should strictly avoid using strong language and should be patient and temperate'. During the 10th century the Persian King Qabus also set down some general rules of polo and especially mentioned the risks and dangers of the game.

The 13th century poet Nizami weaves the love story of the Sassanid King Khusru and his beautiful consort Shirin, around her ability on the polo field, and describes matches between Khusru and his courtiers and Shirin and her ladies-in-waiting. Nurjehan, wife of the 19th century Mughal Emperor Jahangir, was also skilled at polo. Polo was a popular royal pastime for many centuries in
China, the Chinese probably having learned the game from the same Indian tribes who were taught by the Persians. The polo stick appears on royal coats of arms in China and the game was part of the court life in the golden age of Chinese classical culture under Ming-Hung, the Radiant Emperor, who as an enthusiastic patron of equestrian activities. Less cultured, one might think, was the reaction of Emperor Tai Tsu in 9 10 A.D. who according to one source, ordered all the other players beheaded after a favorite was killed in a match.

Several controversies still run rampant over the exact origins of polo. Depending on what country you are in the exact history of polo can vary. However, some parts of the history do remain the same.

POLO - The oldest team sport, the exact origin of polo is unknown. Polo was probably first played by nomadic warriors over two thousand years ago. Used for training cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan in the Middle Ages. Tamerlane's polo grounds can still be seen in Samarkand. British tea planters in
India first saw the game in the early 1800's. However, it was not until the 1850's that the British cavalry drew up the first rules and by the 1870's, the game was well established in England.

James Gordon Bennett, a noted American publisher, brought polo to New York in 1876. Within ten years, there were major clubs all over the east including Long Island.

Over the next 50 years, polo achieved tremendous popularity in the United States. By the 1930's, polo was an Olympic sport and crowds in excess of 30,000 regularly attended international matches at the Meadow Brook Polo Club on Long Island.

In the 1950's, intercollegiate polo was played by only four teams. Today, it includes more than 25 colleges and universities. Player membership in the United States Polo Association has more than tripled with over 250 active clubs, with almost 1000 polo clubs worldwide in almost every country on the globe.

Polo's roots are in ancient warfare

Although many associate polo with the
British Empire, the game's origins are far older. Four thousand years ago the tribes of central Asia domesticated wild horses, migrated to Persia and mastered the art of warfare on horseback. To practice their maneuvers, they began playing polo. The first references to the game in Persian literature date to 600 BC. But the best-known are contained in the 11th-century Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, who used polo as a metaphor for God's dominion over the apparent chaos of life:

In the cosmic game of polo you are the ball

The mallet's left and right becomes your call

He who causes your movements, your rise and fall

He is the one, the only one, who knows it all.

Thanks to the military superiority of its cavalry, Persia expanded its empire across Asia in the 5th century BC, and the horse -- and polo -- arrived in China, Japan and Tibet. ("Polo" is derived from pulu, the Tibetan word for ball.) Although it has all but vanished from those lands, it is still played by the hill tribes of northern Pakistan; the biggest match of the year in that country is played under a full moon on a rocky field astride the 11,000-foot
Shandur Pass, following rules dictated 800 years ago by a descendant of Genghis Khan.

Polo came to the west via India, where the game was introduced in the 16th century. By the middle of the 19th century, polo flourished in several Indian provinces, especially Manipur, where it was observed by puzzled British government officials. One of them wrote an account of the sport and, in 1869, an officer with the Tenth Hussars, a cavalry regiment based at Aldershot, near London, read about it in a sporting journal. He was so impressed that he immediately ordered his men to start playing makeshift games; within a year, polo was a standard part of a British cavalry officer's training. But the games were confused melees, so in 1874 London's fashionable Hurlingham Club established a set of rules (see "Polo: The basic rules"), many of which are still in use today. Duly armed with their laws, the British took polo around the world.

British cattlemen introduced the game to Argentina, the current Mecca for polo aficionados. In
Buenos Aires every December as many as 30,000 polo fans attend the Argentine Open, the world's most prestigious tournament. In the land of the gaucho, boys growing up on estancias (estates) play polo as soon as they learn to ride; consequently, the majority of top-ranked players are Argentines, including 27-year-old Adolfo Cambiaso, the sport's tabloid-handsome superstar and current leading goal scorer on the World Polo Tour.

Historically speaking, however, polo's most articulate spokesman must be Winston Churchill, who learned the game in 1895 when he was a young cavalry officer. (He wrote to his mother and begged her for money to buy polo ponies: "I cannot go on without any for more than a few days," he wrote, "unless I give up the game, which would be dreadful.") A year later, stationed in
India, he organized a polo club and purchased 25 horses from another regiment with the aim of winning India's prestigious inter-regional tournament. His team practiced every day in the blistering heat, and traveled up to 1,400 miles by train with its horses to play invitational matches. In My Early Life, he describes a game with the kinsmen of Sir Pertab Singh, the regent of Jodhpor:

"Old Pertab, who loved polo next to war more than anything in the world, used to stop the game repeatedly and point out faults or possible improvements in our play and combination. 'Faster, faster, same like fly,' he would shout to increase the speed of the game. The Jodhpor polo ground rises in great clouds of red dust when a game is in progress. These clouds carried to leeward of the strong breeze introduced a disturbing and somewhat dangerous complication. Turbaned figures emerged at full gallop from the dust-cloud, or the ball whistled out of it unexpectedly. It was difficult to follow the whole game, and one often had to play to avoid the dust-cloud."

Thanks to his determination, Churchill's team won the inter-regional tournament in 1899. He continued to play polo until the age of 52, despite suffering a constantly dislocating right shoulder which forced him to ride with his hitting arm bound to his side.

"Don't give your son money," he later advised parents. "As far as you can afford it, give him horses. No one ever came to grief -- except honorable grief -- through riding horses. No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle. Young men have often been ruined through owning horses, or through backing horses, but never through riding them; unless of course they break their necks, which, taken at a gallop, is a very good death to die."

Source: polonews.com (from: The Vancouver Sun)