sport of polo




A sport unlike any other, polo showcases the powerful bond between a player and his or her equine partner.

As one of the oldest team sports, polo is an exhilarating combination of horsepower, athleticism and control. Competing on a 300 by 160-yard grass field (outdoor polo) or a 300 by 150-foot dirt arena (indoor polo), players score by driving the ball between the opposing team’s goal posts using a bamboo mallet while riding at speeds of up to 35 mph. The team with the highest score after 4 to 6 chukkers (periods) of play win the game. If both teams are tied at the end of the final chukker, play will go into overtime. The game follows some established rules that keep the horses and riders safe.


Line of the Ball

Line of the Ball

Plays are based on the “Line of the Ball,” or LOB, an imaginary line created by the ball as it travels down the field. It represents a “Right of Way” for the last player striking the ball, and is the basis for most fouls in the game. Players may try to hook or “ride-off” their opponents in an effort to gain control of the ball.

At the start of the game, team members line up in numerical order, opposite the opposing team. An umpire rolls the ball between the teams and the match begins. Play is continuous throughout the chukker, unless the umpire blows the whistle for a foul or there is any injury to a player or horse. If a penalty is called, the team fouled will have an opportunity to execute a penalty shot.

Right of Way

Right of Way

The "Right of Way" (ROW) exists between any two or more players in the proximity of the ball and extends ahead of the players entitled to it and in the direction those players are riding. Not to be confused with LOB, the ROW is not dependent on who last hit the ball. Enforced to keep all players safe and avoid collisions on the field, players may only enter or cross the ROW if they can do so safely and with enough distance.

Teams and Handicaps

Teams and Handicaps

A team consists of four mounted players in outdoor polo and three mounted players in indoor polo, and can be a mix of both men, women, professionals and amateurs. Players are handicapped on a scale of -2 (C) to 10, as determined by a player’s horsemanship, hitting ability, quality of horses, team play and game sense.

There are four possible handicapping scales and players can have more than one rating: Outdoor (grass play with both genders represented), Arena (arena/indoor play with both genders), Women’s Outdoor (grass play with women only represented), and Women’s Arena(arena/indoor play with women only). The team handicap is the sum of its players’ total handicaps. Each tournament maintains a handicap range; the total handicap of all teams must fall between this range (Outdoor Rule 3 exception).

Improper Use of Mallet

Improper Use of Mallet

The mallet of an opponent cannot be hooked unless he/she is in the act of hitting the ball or attempting to hook or strike the player’s own mallet. The entire mallet head must be below the opponent’s shoulderfor safety reasons.

The Officials

The Officials

During games, two mounted umpires officiate on the field while a referee assists from the sidelines. The rules of polo are designed to allow both the players and their equine partners the opportunity to maximize their athletic skills in a safe and fair environment. Dangerous riding, which involves ride-offs that are in any manner dangerous to either the horse or rider, is not permitted and is up to the discretion of the umpire.



If both teams are tied at the end of the final chukker, options for both outdoor and arena play include sudden death or a shoot out. During sudden death the first team to score a goal wins the game. During an outdoor “shoot out,” each player in turn, and alternating teams, will attempt a free hit from the 40-yard line (25-yard line in arena) at an undefended goal. The team with the most goals scored wins the game.


Often when an umpire blows the whistle during a chukker a foul has occurred and the play stops. Other reasons play may stop can include but are not limited to a horse or rider injury or a tack time out. Announcer commentary on the USPA Polo Network livestream can be helpful for understanding infractions.

A penalty may be called for any number of reasons, but Right of Way (ROW) and ride-off violations are most common.

  • ROW calls may include but are not limited to the following: turning across the ROW, blocking the ROW, impeding the ROW, and ROW violation.
  • Ride off calls may include: Uneven ride off, illegal ride off, uneven speed on ride off, too much angle
  • Other calls may include: Delay of game, dangerous riding, reaching, dangerous use of mallet

Penalty 1

Player commits dangerous or deliberate foul in vicinity of goal in order to save a goal. The team fouled is awarded an automatic goal. The game will resume with a penalty hit from the center of the field (Penalty 5.b) awarded to the fouled team and a change in direction.

Penalty 2

A penalty hit by the team fouled from the center of the 30-yard line nearest the fouling team’s goal or from the spot where the foul occurred.

Penalty 3

Penalty hit by the team fouled from the center of the 40-yard line nearest the fouling team’s goal.

Penalty 4

Free hit at the ball by the team fouled from the center of the 60-yard line nearest the fouling team’s goal.

Penalty 5

There are two designations for a Penalty 5; 5.a or 5.b. (a) hit from the spot where the ball was when foul occurred, but four yards from boards or sidelines (b) penalty hit from the center of the field

Penalty 6 or Safety

Occurs when a player hits the ball over their own end line. A penalty will be hit from a spot 60 yards from the end line opposite where the ball crossed the end line, but no more than 40 yards from the center of the 60-yard line.

*This guide is meant as a general overview of the rules in most cases. For a full explanation and any exceptions, please reference the official rulebook.

seo seo