‘Let other people play other things. The King of Games is still the Game of Kings’
- Ancient inscription near polo field in modern day Iran
One of the world’s oldest organized sports, Polo is a game whose origins are lost to history. Descriptions of the game are found throughout Asia, from Japan and China to India and the Middle East, with the game itself dating back over two thousand years. Nobody knows who started it or where they did, but the Game of Kings spread like wildfire throughout Asia and quickly established itself as both an entertaining pastime for the courts and ideal training for elite cavalry. Ancient games could contain a hundred men per side as cavalry trained for battle.
Modern day Polo owes its name to the Tibetan word ‘pulu’, referencing the ball used for the game. The British first discovered polo in India in the 1800s, later importing it to the empire. After its introduction to Britain, the game spread to America and continued its position as the Game of Kings.
Now, being referred to "Hockey on Horses" in North America, the game is played on horses with excellent agility. Riders and horses wear pads on their legs to protect against ball strikes and the mallet. Strikes can be made on either side of the horse, from behind, or even under a horse’s belly. Goals are made by driving the ball down the field and getting it between goalposts. Each side wearing a different shirt differentiates teams, with no true positions to speak of. Two umpires to referee the game are also mounted, with a third man on the sidelines (who makes the final decision if the two referees disagree).
Polo in the Park Ottawa will feature a dramatic variation of the game: arena polo. This game is played in a smaller, walled field with a dirt floor. Two teams of three players each navigate the area of 300’ by 150’, with the ball bouncing off the walls and even against the scuffs generated by horses’ hooves. Players must trust their teammates and horses absolutely as they maneuver powerful horses at great speed and agility in a confined area.
The matches promise to be exciting and entertaining — perhaps it should be called extreme Polo!