Polo is a sport with many names, one of which being the ‘Game of Kings’ and the name isn’t for nothing. Polo really is a very gentlemanly sport with the rules being created to protect human and horse competitors alike and a whole etiquette system to boot existing around the sport and its players. We’ve got all your queries about the etiquette of polo covered so that next time you hit the field, especially for those beginner players hitting the field for the first time, you know what to do and how to act.
Like any team sport, polo is dependent on coordinating a variety of factors into a perfect storm scenario; from the weather to eight (or more) busy people’s schedules, to sixteen or more horses and their grooms it’s a constant challenge to organize a polo match. That said, do your best not to show up late or unprepared. If the other players can do their part to coordinate their busy schedules in order to arrive on time, organize their horses for the match and arrive prepared you can too.
2. The Pre-Game Handshake
The first thing any polo player does when they take to the field before a match starts is ride up to the other players, on their team and on the opposing team, and shake hands or introduce themselves etc. As a team sport, polo is a social sport, and even the most intense tournament at its core is about having some fun with fellow players. So take the moment to relax, introduce yourself, and familiarize yourself with the other players because it will go a long way with your teammates and your opposition if they know your name on the field. Not to mention, polo is a sport heavily based on networking, teams are formed for each specific tournament so if another player likes what they see and wants you to play together in the next tournament them knowing your name goes a long way towards getting that chance to play together again.
Ideally, every player aims not to foul on the field. However, even the best players foul sometimes. When it happens other players may be seen throwing their mallets up in the air and yelling 'foul' to the umpire or anyone paying attention. When it happens just admit your mistake, apologize to your team and file that mistake away in your memory bank as something not to do next time. It’s as simple as that.
4. Switching Ponies in between Chukkers
In between each chukker, players must head for the sidelines or back to their trailers to switch their ponies for the following chukker. It’s considered good manners to only take as long as absolutely necessary in between chukkers, other players don’t enjoy being held up while you take your sweet time trading ponies.
5. No Heckling
It's all for fun and games and a little teasing in a practice game is one thing but out right heckling and yelling from the sidelines or from your pony aren't really considered polite behaviour on the polo field, after all we are civilized ladies and gentlemen and the sport really is about getting out there, having some fun and maybe winning a nice trophy when it's all said and done.
6. The Post-Game Handshake
Polo is a game of many handshakes. And in addition to the pre-game handshake it’s customary to shake hands with the other players, teammates, and opposition, once again after the game finishes. Players usually also thank each other and congratulate them on a game well played. You probably shouldn’t leave the field without participating in this little ritual or the others might think you didn’t enjoy playing with them or simply think you're just not a very polite person. Save your reputation and shake hands.
They work tirelessly to ensure that your horses are in tip top shape to take to the field when you do and look good while they’re out there. So throw them a quick thank you after the game for all they do to keep your horses happy, fit and healthy.
8. Divot Stomping
After the game, when the ponies have been put away, the players have cooled down and let the adrenaline die down from an exciting match it’s customary for all the players to head out onto the field and ‘stomp the divots’ or clean up the field. It goes a long way towards ingratiating yourself with the field owner, who likely works tirelessly on keeping the field in playable condition and considers the field their pride and joy, if you make an effort towards repairing some of the damage you may have made.
9. Post Game Socializing
Like we mentioned above, polo is a social sport and any player would agree that taking the time to socialize with other players off the field is nearly as important as playing the game. Obviously, there are extenuating circumstances, like scheduling conflicts and match delays. But generally, players plan to linger for at least fifteen minutes after the game finishes to debrief and converse with their fellow players. If you’re lucky some matches will include asados (Argentine barbecues) or refreshments after the game, even more incentive to stick around the field after the game to debrief and catch up with what’s happening in your teammates lives off the field.
While it’s not always the case and there are many exceptions to the rule. At Polo Management Services/Toronto Polo School, when a player makes an unplanned dismount during the game aka takes a tumble we are owed a case of beer or something equivalent. It’s our way of providing a little motivation for you not to take a tumble, you are welcome.
So there you have it, your guide to the unspoken rules of polo. You can thank us next time you attempt to navigate the tricky waters of polo match etiquette and know exactly what to do.