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Articles

Polo Equine Athletes


2016/09/04

From Tennessee Equine Hospital

Referring to equine athletes conveys images of racehorses or Grand Prix jumpers or barrel racers. One group of remarkable equine athletes not often thought of is polo ponies. While commonly referred to as “ponies,” most polo mounts today are technically horses. 

Polo is a unique sport that demands speed, agility, grit, and bravery from these horses.  Thoroughbreds are often chosen for outdoor polo, where their speed is ideal on a field the size of nine football fields!  Polo horses, ridden mainly by neck rein, also need to be highly responsive and agile. They need to be able to perform roll backs and lateral motions to push opposing players off the line of play – all the while galloping down the field.

Polo ponies are trained to neck rein and be very responsive to leg pressure to allow quick movements throughout the game.  Horses must also be desensitized to having the long-handled mallet swung on either side of their head and body.  Polo is sometimes called “Hockey on Horseback,” and as such is a high contact sport.   The polo horse needs to be willing to ride alongside and push against another horse. Once a horse is trained to the game, consistent exercise is required to keep the horse fit enough and to prevent injuries.

A “chukker,” or period in the game, is seven and a half minutes long.  Depending on the level of competition, a single horse will play anywhere from a half to two chukkers in a game.  This demands a healthy heart, airway, and musculoskeletal system. 

Polo horses are kept in tip-top shape with a high plane of nutrition and regular shoeing and veterinary care.  As with racehorses, any upper airway abnormalities like roaring or displacement of the soft palate, are usually addressed to allow the horse to work to its fullest potential.

Polo horses are prone to many of the same injuries as high-level sport horses are, such as bowed tendons, splint fractures, and hock arthritis.  Wraps or boots are worn during play to prevent direct injury to the horse’s legs. 

The rules of polo are designed to keep both the player and the horse safe throughout this fast-paced game.

We are fortunate that polo is alive and well in Tennessee and Alabama.  Come learn more about this exciting sport and witness the athleticism of the polo horse yourself at Chukkers for Charity in Nashville, TN on September 10 or Wings Polo Classic in Memphis, TN on September 18.

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