Oasis Arabian Magazine - Arabians in Polo
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(photo by Marcin Dabrowski)
Arabians in Polo
In an atmosphere of competition, camaraderie and friendship, the sights and sounds of polo have been enjoyed by players and spectators all over the world for millennia. Although the modern form of the sport has evolved far beyond its ancient origins, the excitement of the game and improved accessibility continue the traditions of polo today.
Primitive forms of polo have been played for millennia with rules and traditions evolving as the sport has spread across the globe. The first ancient predecessor of the game developed in 5th century Persia, with elite cavalry training for combat in staged miniature battles with dozens or hundreds of horses and riders. Development of the game in the 19th and 20th centuries is often credited to the British, with the game finally evolving into the fast-paced variant played today. Modern polo is now played in numerous forms in countries all over the world.
In addition to a long historical past, polo is unique in the cooperative element not only among team members but between player and animal. Polo requires a close cooperation between human and animal unlike any other sport activity. Each horse and rider must function in harmony while simultaneously coordinating movement and strategy with other players. The intricate communication required among team members is made even more challenging over a large playing surface and fast-paced game play.
The traditional social element of polo is part of the reason the game maintains widespread popularity. Spectators not only enjoy the excitement of the match, but the friendly culture of the sport includes tailgating, the halftime divit stomp, and an atmosphere of comeradery and fun. Tailgating can range from a simple cooler of refreshments to elaborate buffets of gourmet food and wine.
Inherent formality is a common misconception about the sport of polo. As most matches are open to the public and free to attend, polo fans come in a great variety. Many polo enthusiasts have come to appreciate that part of the excitement as a spectator is the unique opportunity to meet a diverse group of people. Even the demographic of players is diverse. Although each league and match may have specific rules, polo teams are often composed of a combination of men, women, children, amateurs, and professionals.
Another common misunderstanding is that polo is reserved for the wealthy. Sunny Hale, President and Founder of the Women's Championship Tournament, notes, "Polo offers the ability for individuals to try the sport at every budget level that they choose, from weekend chukkers renting a horse at a local club to the extreme of owning an entire professional team and horses for each player. There are many polo clubs throughout the U.S and the world that offer polo lessons for people to try the sport whether they own horses or not. Even the one-horse owner can enjoy the sport of polo at a local club by contacting the club and finding out how to get started. Many new players come from other equestrian disciplines with the same horse they used in their previous equestrian sport."
The polo horse is the foundation of why the sport is so unique. Many players consider the horses to be the majority factor in competition, with some able to completely turn a game around. Although the horses used in polo are traditionally referred to as polo ponies, in reality horses of any size and breed are used. The term originates from historic size restrictions, however the average size of a polo horse today is around 15 hands tall. The particular breed used by each player is dependent on personal preference, however polo ponies require a combination of skills found separately in a number of other riding disciplines. Sunny Hale explains more, "They must stop and turn like a cow horse, jump boards and approach things boldly like a jumper, run like a race horse, be balanced and under complete control like a dressage horse and it doesn't hurt if they are beautiful to look at!"
(photo by Dirgayuza Setiawan)
Given the historical origins of both polo and the domesticated Arabian horse, combined with the skills called for in polo gameplay, it follows that the Arabian makes a good polo pony. The ancient Bedouin people relied on the Arabian breed as a fast, dependable companion in the desert and in battle and the translation of those qualities to polo is natural.
The recently established American Polo Horse Registry is becoming an important resource for the polo industry to track and organize information about polo ponies. In 2008 the registry welcomed its first purebred Arabian polo pony, Surton, a bay gelding by Bataan out of Zi Bright who is currently owned and played by Bill Kraft of Tioga Texas. Surton was awarded a Best Playing Pony award while competing in a tournament in Texas, against horses of many breeds.
Well known for their endurance and spirit, Arabians are found playing polo at various levels of the sport all over the world. Much like the Arabian breed, the sport of polo represents a long history that has found a continued interest today and beyond.
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