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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.


Rainy Day Polo Reading List

Rainy Day Polo Reading List

Rain means wet fields and wet fields means no polo which for polo players is pretty much a nightmare. And short of taking up water polo, there's nothing that can be done to stop the rain and speed up the drying of the fields. So while you’re stuck inside watching the puddles form we’ve compiled a polo reading list so you can make use of all that time that can’t be spent playing polo.

Over the course of polo’s long history as a sport, a number of books have been written about it. And there’s a little something for everyone. From trashy fiction set in the world of high goal polo to historical ‘how to play’ manuals and up to date non-fiction books about how to improve your game and handicap. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites for those rainy days when the weather just won’t cooperate.


1.     Polo by Jilly Cooper

No list of polo books would be complete without the cult classic Polo by Jilly Cooper. Thoroughly researched and exhaustingly detailed (in a good way), Cooper takes you inside the scandalous world of high-goal polo in the 1980’s. While you may not learn anything about improving your own game, you will get to escape the real world for a couple hundred pages (more like 800 pages) as you delve into the world of Ricky France-Lynch, Perdita MacLeod, Rupert Campbell Black and all the other fascinating characters Cooper has thought up. The story takes you on a whirlwind trip through the polo world from the polo fields in England to Palm Beach, Argentina, California, and France among other destinations.


2.     The Polo Season Series by Jessica Whitman and Nacho Figueras

A new release in the genre of polo themed fiction, the Polo Season Series is comprised of three separate books; High Season, Wild One, and Ride Free that all follow the lives of members of the Del Campo family polo dynasty. They’re a light read that still manage to satisfy your polo craving and they’ve got Nacho Figueras’ name on them…so even if the story lines are trashy you know that the polo information is accurate.


3.     Polo Life by Adam Snow and Shelley Onderdonk

Polo life veers off the path of trashy polo themed fiction towards something that might actually improve your game or at the very least provide insight into what it takes to survive the world of high goal polo. Written by Adam Snow (former 10-goal player) and his veterinarian and wife Shelley Onderdonk the book covers everything from what it’s like to play as a pro to what it’s like to achieve 10 goals, tips for finding and buying the right horses and how to best care for them among other topics. Interspersed throughout are anecdotes from Onderdonk and Snow’s life in the world of polo which makes all the factual information go down easier. Well worth the read for anyone curious about the world of high goal polo and what it takes to survive in it.


4.     The Maltese Cat by Rudyard Kipling

Now for a classic, Kipling’s The Maltese Cat takes you inside the mind of a polo pony on the day of a match in colonial India when polo was still a cavalry based sport. Hailed as “the greatest and most enjoyable story ever written about the game of polo and one of the greatest stories ever written from a pony’s point of view” it’s a must read for any polo fanatic. And at only 63 pages long (depending on the edition), it’s one of the shorter books on this list.


5.     Let’s Talk Polo by Sunny Hale

Sunny Hale was one of the world’s most famous female polo players until she passed away suddenly this past winter. Thankfully, her wisdom and experiences will remain with us as she’s documented them all in her book Let’s Talk Polo. Her book covers everything from Stick and Ball to practice games, the language of polo, tournaments, polo ponies, mallets, and tips. Short and to the point, it’s the ideal guide for the new polo player to get their feet wet.


6.     Let’s Talk About Your Handicap by Sunny Hale

Another addition to the Let’s Talk series by the late Sunny Hale, she goes more into depth on issues surrounding polo handicaps. The book answers all the questions you’ve ever hand about polo handicaps from the basics to how to improve your handicap, she’s covered it all.


7.     Polo by J. Moray Brown

Written in the late 1800’s, Polo by J. Moray Brown was the how to guide of it’s century. Nowadays some of the tips are a little out of date but it’s nevertheless a cool read for those looking to get a sense for polo’s long history.


8.     Modern Polo by Captain E. D. Miller

The name Modern Polo can be a little misleading with this book, it’s also a how to guide from another century but still a cool read for those wanting to understand the polo of the past and see what’s changed in the decades since. Also a good read in the historical category is As to Polo by William Cameron Forbes.


9.     Polo by Susan Barrantes

Polo is the ultimate coffee table book for anyone who has ever wanted to play or does play polo. Complete with beautiful photos and a foreword by the Prince of Wales it does not disappoint.


Other Polo Related Books:

·      The Golden Mallet by Elizabeth Y. Layton

·      Let’s Talk Polo Ponies by Sunny Hale

·      Polo: The Nomadic Tribe by Aline Coquelle

·      Playmaker Polo by Hugh Dawney

·      The Complete Guide to Polo by Lauren Dibble

No Small Feat

No Small Feat

In the past few weeks, we’ve been involved with shipping some polo ponies from Argentina to Canada. 

No doubt, shipping horses is a fairly regular occurrence, but what makes this particular shipment stand out was the sheer volume of ponies that were shipped to Canada. A grand total of 87 polo ponies made up the shipment that very nearly filled the inside of a Boeing 747 cargo plane.

They landed at Hamilton International Airport on May 4th and were greeted with our typical early spring weather of cool, damp rain. Definitely a drastic change from the climate they’d grown used to in Argentina. Nevertheless, they remained patient as they were all unloaded from the plane, and taken over to a warehouse where they were removed from their shipping boxes (after upwards of 10 hours in them). They were then checked over by vets and customs and given food and water. Once each horse was given the ‘all clear’ they were loaded into waiting trailers which took them to the quarantine barn located at Pampa Norte Polo Farm in Alliston, Ontario where they would serve out their quarantine period.

The processing of all 87 polo ponies and their subsequent loading into trailers took the better part of the day and they finally made it to Alliston later in the evening. Once they were unloaded and checked once again by customs they settled in to their quarantine stalls where they would remain for approximately the next two weeks.

They received constant monitoring and tests throughout their quarantine period and were released at long last on May 23rd at which point they were taken to their new homes all over Ontario and the Northeastern United States.

Taking into account the pre-flight quarantine that took place in Argentina, the flight itself and their Canadian quarantine period these horses have been in transit and unable to just be horses since the end of March making their release last night even sweeter. Despite all the stress and confusion these horses were under they all remained patient and calm throughout the entire ordeal. What a bunch of troopers!

We can’t wait to see what these ponies can do on the field once they’ve had a chance to settle in and relax.

*For those curious about how much an equine plane ticket costs, it is approximately $9000 USD per horse. 

The horses from Argentina have finally been released from quarantine and are now at home at the farm #polo #poloponies @pampanortepolo

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Goodbye to Nutria


Goodbye to Nutria

Last night we said goodbye to one of our beloved polo ponies, Nutria.

She had a long career as a polo pony and won a numerous Best Playing Pony awards before becoming a school horse at the Toronto Polo School. In her role as a school horse, she taught countless beginners to play polo and was a favorite of many.

Nutria was in her twenties and passed away peacefully in her stall last night from old age. She will be missed around the farm and by all the players she took care of.