Introducing Polo – the fine sport of Royals
Polo is increasingly becoming popular in Thailand, and in Pattaya there are two polo clubs. In the 2007 Asean Games, Thailand managed to secure the bronze medal, while Malaysia became the winner followed by Singapore, that took home the silver medal.
Polo never had humble beginnings. Given the fact that you actually have to own a few horses before being able to play (as you generally change horses about 4 times per match), has always meant is a game reserved for aristocrats and royalty; the British princes William and Harry, for instance, are well known Polo enthusiasts. Though the game’s invention is still a matter of discussion, as both the Chinese and Iranian cultures have provided some sort of evidence of the game being played around 600 years BC, it was the British colonialists (and generals) who turned it into a modern world-renowned sport.
First polo club opened in India in 1862
Even though the first ‘modern’ Polo club, the Calcutta Polo Club, was opened in India in 1862 and later exported to England and the rest of the world during the late 19th century, it was in Argentina where the sport got perfected. Originally brought to the ‘estancias’ - or country houses of the aristocratic British immigrants – the game of Polo quickly gained popularity among the extremely skilled Pampas cowboys, the ‘gauchos’ as they are still known as today. Soon enough both polo players and horses from the country became the standard for the game, even to this day the argentine riders and horses are well known to be the best in the sport, which is the reason why even here in Pattaya the Polo trainers are generally from Argentina.
Teams are measured on a handicap-scale
Polo is a very particular sport, it is actually the only sport in existence where handicap is a factor; this means that in the name of fairness, many of the top players of the world cannot play in the same team at the same time. This handicap scale, measured from ‘2-goal handicap’ to ‘10-goal handicap’, was created in order to avoid unfair games. As to exemplify, the polo world cup, which is held every 3 years, is a 14-goal handicap tournament, meaning the added handicap of each of the 4 players in each team cannot surpass the 14-point-mark. To this day Argentina remains the only country being able to provide a perfect team made up of four 10-goal handicap players (though of course they are not allowed to participate in the world cup as this wouldn’t be fair to the other teams. Polo is a ‘gentleman’s game’.
The rules of polo are simple
Polo is played by two teams of four players each on an impressive 275m by 146 m field (roughly the area of seven American football fields), the objective of the game is to lead a small ball in between two wooden vertical poles in order to score a goal. The riders can hit this ball using what is known as a ‘mallet’, which in all technicality consists of a long bamboo rod with a ‘head’ made of wood, much like a long wooden hammer. It goes without saying, the amount of agility and skills required to ride on horseback at full-speed while hitting a small ball with a long hammer are, well, impressive to say the least. High handicap riders (anything above 2-goal handicap is considered professional level) spend most of their lives practicing and competing before obtaining a respectable level of ability, which of course makes it all the more impressive to see a 10-goal handicap rider being able to dribble i.e bounce the tiny ball on their mallet, before hitting it as hard as possible to make it go through two wooden poles 100 meters away... while riding on a horse.
In case you are interested in finding out a bit more about the requirements needed before you start practising this amazing sport, you can always contact the main club offering training in Pattaya: