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Your Guide to the Real Athletes on the Polo Field; Polo Ponies

Your Guide to the Real Athletes on the Polo Field; Polo Ponies

Ask any polo player how important their ponies are to them and they’ll tell you they account for roughly 80% of their ability to play polo.  

But how much do you really know about these mysterious creatures called ‘polo ponies’? Luckily, we’ve got all those burning questions covered in our handy dandy guide to polo ponies; the real athletes on the field.

What are they?

It’s one of the most common questions we get when people develop an interest in polo. What kind of horses are polo ponies?

Polo ponies are not a specific breed of horse and they don’t all come from one blood line. Though today most polo ponies today are at least part thoroughbred thanks to the thoroughbred's speed, stamina and build. 


But there is nothing saying that a polo pony has to be a certain breed. Instead, they must meet certain requirements of both a physical and mental nature. Mentally, they must have a combination of intelligence and a love for the game also known as what players call a ‘mind for the game’. It’s very difficult to make a pony want to play polo, they have to have the mind capable of following everything that is happening out there on the field. Physically, they must have speed and endurance along with strong legs capable of carrying riders at full speed, stopping and turning on a dime. There’s also a certain amount of ‘heart’ required for a polo pony. Players want their ponies to be brave, to attack and take them into a play, but remain obedient and willing to their player’s instructions. That perfect polo pony with the right combination of mind and heart can sometimes be a once in a lifetime find unless of course, you’re a proponent of polo pony cloning (a story for another time).


Ponies of all heights and breeds may be played in the game. Only horses that have vices (fears, handicaps etc.) that may potentially be dangerous to other players or ponies are banned from playing.

Are they really ponies?

You’re probably wondering why they’re called ponies if there are no height or breed restrictions in the polo rulebook?

It all goes back to the days when the preferred mount for players was the Manipuri Pony which stood just 13.2 hands off the ground. In those days, the smaller the pony the better. But as the sport was adopted by the West and became more and more popular height restrictions on the ponies were raised and eventually abandoned in 1919. While they’re not actual ponies today, they still tend to remain on the shorter side of the spectrum. Most polo ponies today sit somewhere between 14 and 16 hands. And it is often said that the perfect pony rides like an 18 hand pony but plays like a 14 hand pony, with the hypothetical 18 hands giving the player an advantage in defense and the 14 hands giving the player the handling and maneuverablity that is so necessary on the polo field.


Where do they come from?

Polo ponies can come from a range of places. A large proportion of polo ponies today come from Argentina where there are huge breeding and training operations tailored specifically to polo. These operations are often the source of high goal ponies and have even recently ventured into genetically cloning star ponies so players can have multiple ponies of the same genes. Players often travel down to Argentina to look, try and purchase polo ponies who are then flown back to the player’s home country (see article No Small Feat). Polo ponies that originate from Argentina are often considered to be some of the world’s best thanks to the quality of stock and training down there. These horses are often thoroughbreds crossed with an Argentine working horse breed called a criollo, these ponies are often known just as Argentines.

But Argentina is not the only place ponies come from. Another popular avenue for polo ponies is from the race track. Ex-racehorses often have the speed and agility that is required for polo and if you can find one with the right conformation for polo it’s a good option. These off-track thoroughbreds are often trained to become polo ponies as a second career.

Other polo ponies are simply horses players have found and decided they liked the look of for polo. These can be quarter horses, thoroughbred crosses, and any other breed under the sun so long as they have the heart, mind and build for polo.


Training Ponies

Training horses to play polo can be a long and unpredictable road. It can be filled with setbacks and time off for the horse to adjust and let what they’ve learned sink in or while they regress into their stupider days.

Horses start by being schooled and taught the movements required in polo; quick acceleration, stopping on a dime, and rollbacks. Then they are desensitized to the mallet and hours are spent ‘stick and balling’ with them so that they can get used to a rider swinging a mallet on their back sometimes taking other horses with them on the field. When the player believes the horse is comfortable enough they will begin to play the horse in slow chukkers, letting it get the hang of what it feels like to play an actual game.

Depending on the horse, their mind and where they came from it can take anywhere from a matter of months to a matter of years.

Matching Players and Ponies

Any player you meet will have their own preference when it comes to polo ponies. Some players like larger horses, maybe because of their own size or the security afforded to them by a larger pony; others like smaller ponies that handle like an agile sports car. While there may be a dictionary definition for the ‘perfect polo pony’ it is a fluid definition when it comes to matching ponies with riders.

For starters there are two types of horses; push horses and pull horses. Push horses are horses that have to be pushed into going fast, they have lazy tendencies and are perfect for the novice or nervous player. Pull horses are horses that need no encouragement to run and take their player into a play but they may need a little extra encouragement to stop. These are often for the more advanced horse(wo)man. But even novices sometimes like pull horses and pros like push horses, nothing is black and white when it comes to matching players and ponies.

Then there is the age old question of geldings vs. mares. Many polo ponies are mares, and many people prefer mares for the heart they have when they take to the field. It is often said, that a mare can be ‘asked’ to do something. A gelding must be told. Geldings can take longer to train and can sometimes be a little stupid but can also make excellent polo ponies for the right person.


All of the variables can combine into a range of personalities (and yes polo ponies absolutely have personalities) that must be matched with their player in order to create a perfect team and is often the reason that players learning to play are given the opportunity to try a variety of different horses so that they can learn what they like when it comes time to lease or buy.

Riding style is also a factor in matching ponies and players. Certain players have long strong legs and as such control the horse a lot with their legs. Others are a little more handsy and rely on the reins more making horses with sensitive mouths a bad choice for these players. Some players push horses harder than others while even other players will pick their style of horse for the position they play most often on the field.

Above all, a player must be comfortable on their ponies; because they are their teammate more than anyone else out there. And the connection between player and pony must be so instinctual that they can communicate without really communicating, they must be able to read each other's minds.

It has long been said that ‘a good player on a bad horse isn’t such a good player. And a bad player with a good horse can be a very good player.’ In polo, it’s all about the horses and it’s a large part of the reason why players enjoy the sport so much.



Love horses? Want to try something totally unique involving horses? Want to do things you never thought you’d do on a horse? Try Polo! We offer clinics and lessons, sign up today.  

Looking to purchase a polo pony? Check out our horses for sale page for up to date listings on horses we’ve got for sale.


Destination Polo: Argentina

Destination Polo: Argentina

Believe it or not, we are fast approaching the mid point in the summer, even though it feels like it just started because the good weather took so long to arrive. It’s at this point in the summer that people look towards the fall and start making plans for those cool Toronto fall days.

If you’re a polo player, the fall also means the end of field polo season and the beginning of the arena or snow polo season in Toronto. A sad time of year indeed. But there’s one thing that saves us all for our winter away from the fields and that’s Argentina.

We’ve said it before and we will say it again. Argentina and its people are hugely influential when it comes to the ‘polo culture’ and ‘polo lifestyle’. From the go to catering choice of Argentinian Barbecue (aka Asado) to the presence of Spanish and Spanish speakers around every polo field, you can’t really escape Argentina when you’re a polo player.

And with good reason. Argentina is home to some of the best polo players, matches, fields, and horses in the world. You won’t see better polo than you’ll see on field number one at Palermo, especially if you happen to get tickets to see the final of the ‘Open’.

It’s because of the importance of Argentina within the polo world and the high caliber of polo that can be watched and played during their peak season each November that players from all over the world hop the next flight down to the mecca of polo for a few weeks of red wine, red meat, and polo. Let’s just say it’s our way of stocking up and overdosing on polo before we all return home to our indoor arenas.

Photo by Alejandra de Miguel

Photo by Alejandra de Miguel

Where you may limit yourself to playing every other day or as little as once or twice a week in the summer season in Toronto (you have to pace yourself somehow, right?), in Argentina you play every single day (as long as your body can handle it and the weather holds out). You ride through those sore muscles and continually remind yourself that there’s no more polo like this once you hop that plane back home, so a little pain now will be worth it in the long run.

Because everyone who is anyone makes the trip down at the same time of year, it’s also a social opportunity. You never know who you may find yourself taking the field with or standing beside in the bar at the Campo Argentino de Polo aka Palermo. While it’s a social sport, polo can sometimes feel a little lonely, because people outside polo often don’t realize that it exists or understand it even if they do know that it exists but in Argentina everyone around very much knows it exists, can point you to the closest field and can and will give you their opinions of the players you’re watching, the ponies they played this morning and where they stand on the issues of cloning among others topics. So in a way, it’s kind of refreshing not to have to dumb down or explain the world that you’ve been so swept up by because everyone around you has the addiction as you…an addiction to polo.

It’s also a chance for newer players to get to the root of the Argentine influence of the sport. Once you’ve seen Cambiaso and La Dolfina and Ellerstina and the Pieres’ duke it out on field number one at Palermo well let’s just say that there will be no doubt in your mind why these guys are the best-ranked players in the world. If you weren’t hooked before you certainly will be now.

The food is a whole other reason to make the trip. You’ve likely had the chance to try an Asado at some point in your polo career you’ve probably never had a real authentic Asado. Because while we try to do Asados justice when we do them in Canada they never quite seem to measure up to the Argentine standard, there’s something in the laidback approach to entertaining for an ever changing number of guests with piles of meat slow cooked over an open flame that we Canadians can’t quite get perfect. Not to mention how fast Asados can be thrown together; you can be field side after an evening game in Argentina with no dinner plans only to have everyone band together and divide the work that needs to be done to host an Asado in a matter of minutes. But it’s not ALL about the meat, well not really, Argentina is also home to some of the best Italian food outside of Italy.

Especially coming from Canada where polo equipment is hard to come by and particularly limited in selection going to Argentina is your chance to stock up on all the equipment you may need for the following season. Mallets, helmets, knee pads, boots, whites, polo belts…the list goes on. You may very well need a second suitcase to get the stuff home but its easy to justify an equipment shopping spree down there because you just can’t find the stuff back home.

So aside from it being hugely important as a social opportunity and as a cultural experience, any amount of constant time spent practicing and playing polo will hugely improve your game so while you may be a little worse for wear on your flight back home, your game and your handicap will thank you.

But how does it all work?

Everyone has different requirements for their annual Argentina trip and each individual will want their own balance of playing, watching, eating, shopping and socializing. All different combinations can be arranged. The popularity of polo down there, especially in the peak season, means that there’s an never ending stream of people looking to accommodate players of all levels and interests.

For help in finding the place that will give you’re looking for and be most suitable for your playing level or to sharpen up your game skills with some lessons and matches before you leave contact us at

The Five Ways your Life Changes When you Learn to Play Polo

The Five Ways your Life Changes When you Learn to Play Polo

From the outside polo looks like any other sport, a hobby to pursue in your free time. But all those that play polo or are learning to play polo will agree that that’s not exactly true. Polo can very quickly become all consuming. It comes with a lifestyle all its own. And before long you’ll start to notice that it’s changed your life in a few different ways.

1.     Polo, Polo, Polo

For starters, your mind starts to think about polo, all the time. And especially in the summer on nice days, other plans take a backseat to polo because the field polo season is short and a polo match coming together is a little like a perfect storm, it requires the coordination of a minimum of 8 player’s schedules, upwards of 16 horses, playable fields and sunny and dry weather in the least. So when the email comes through that a match is happening you’ll suddenly find yourself dropping what can be dropped so you can make it out to the fields in time to get your fix of polo. And if for whatever reason you can’t move things around to make it to the match, you’ll find yourself thinking about the match, the ponies and the other players out there enjoying the summer evening on the field. 


2.     Your New Favorite App

As mentioned above, polo is an incredibly weather dependent sport. Learning to play polo comes with an appreciation for just how long it takes the grass on a polo field to dry in order for the field to be playable. The weight of the horses and the speed that they move and stop at mean that a polo field has to be dry, but not too dry that the grass gets burned. It’s a perfect balance. And it can take days after rain before the field is playable again. Because of its weather dependent nature, you’ll quickly find that the Weather Network app and the radar, in particular, become your new favorite/most used apps as you watch like a hawk for storms passing through and count the drying days until you can get back out on the field again.


3.     White Pants become more than just a Fashion Accessory

The official game attire of polo players is white pants, jeans to be specific, and every polo player has their own favorite brand/cut/style of white jeans they use for polo. So while everyone else watches for sales on white jeans at Ralph Lauren and Levi’s to keep in pristine condition and wear for those hot summer smart casual occasions. Polo players watch for sales on their tried and true favorites to top up their collection of stained and marked ‘whites’ for their next tournament or match. And the rule about only wearing white pants between May 24th and Labor Day doesn’t apply to polo players, white jeans are a staple in any player’s wardrobe and not for fashion’s sake.

4.     Argentina moves to the top of your Travel Bucket List

Spend enough time with ‘gauchos’ and professional polo players from Argentina (and yes these are people you will meet and spend time with in polo) and hear them speak longingly about their farms and estancias located in the pampas just outside Buenos Aires and you’ll quickly find that Argentina moves to the top of your list of ‘must visit’ countries. And it’s not exactly the kind of place you can go once as a polo player, once you’ve experienced the Argentine polo lifestyle it’s hard to forget and even harder for it to be a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip.


5.     Meat becomes a staple of your diet

Meat is a staple in most polo player’s diets largely because of the tradition of celebrating matches and polo related activities with an Asado or Argentine barbecue. It seems to be the go to catering option in the polo world and polo players aren’t kidding when they say they may average between two and four asados per week in the heart of the summer polo season. And if you do make it to Argentina you may find yourself going vegetarian for a little while when you return home because of just how much meat you consumed while there.


Of course, polo changes your life in more than just the above ways, but we can’t give all the changes away. We have to let you experience some of them for yourself. Give polo a try to see the other ways it will change your life…for the better.