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All About Polo:
Polo - The Game
The Polo Club
Field, Ponies And Equipment
Rules For Polo - Part 1
Rules For Polo - Part 2
Horsemanship - Part 1
Horsemanship - Part 2

Field, Ponies And Equipment

( Originally Published Late 1920 )

The field should be 300 by 150 or 160 yards, and the immediate surface is the most important part. While it is preferable to have the field absolutely level, different parts of the field may be at different levels, or the field may slope slightly from side to side, or from end to end, or from the center toward the ends, or vice versa without spoiling the play, provided that the ball rolls comparatively true. By this I mean that the surface of the field should be smooth enough so that the ball will roll on smoothly and not with a series of bounces up and down. This can be accomplished only by having the right kind of turf and by constant care in putting back the torn pieces of turf, and by fairly constant rolling.

The side boards should be of three-quarters inch board, 10 inches high, supported by posts set into the ground on the outside of the field. Great care should be taken that these posts have beveled edges and no nails standing out which could catch a horse's leg and tear the skin as he goes against them.

Although not contained in the ordinary book on polo, I consider it eminently desirable that the side board should curve in toward the goal post at the ends. A plan which I have adopted in laving out polo fields is to cut off 75 feet from each side on the ends, beginning the curve 150 feet from the ends and curving in on an easy curve to the goal line. This makes the field 300 feet wide on the goal line, instead of 450. The space saved cheapens the cost of construction and maintenance of the field without in any way hurting the game.

There should be at least 80 feet clear back of the goal posts, and a back board 18 inches high, painted dark, so that balls may be easily recovered when knocked over the back line. This back board should overlap the side boards a few feet, and the ends might very properly be curved a little toward the field so as to stop balls sent through at an angle. The goal posts should be skeletons, made light so as not to damage a horse by reason of impact; papiermache or some wickerwork covered with canvas is good. The bottom of the post should be a circle of board, which should stand upon a base of the same diameter, set into the ground 18 to 24 inches, the top of the base being immediately level with the surface of the ground; in this a hole should be bored. The goal post is held in place by means of a wooden pin, which sets into the sunken post and also into the circle of board which forms the bottom of the goal post. This pin holds the goal post in place and prevents its falling over when touched or when blown by the wind, but the impact of a horse breaks the pin and the goal post falls down. It can be set in place again by the insertion of a new pin. A supply of pins should always be on hand at the goal post for such contingencies.

It is well to have flags placed at the sides of the field fifty feet from the goal line so that the player or referee can inform himself by sighting as to the limit of closeness the ball may be approached on the knock in.

A white line should be placed across the center of the field but need not reach from side to side. The man in charge of practice should see that the teams line up for the throw in at different times in different parts of the center line, otherwise one place will he unduly torn up. In fact, before matches it is well to have the ball thrown in for practice to one side of the center line, in order to leave the center line untorn for the time of need. It is also well to move the goal posts from time to time, setting them at different places, especially for tile limbering-up practice before polo, as they receive the hardest wear and tear when everybody is trying to make goals. Players are apt to be very inconsiderate, and, having struck a goal, immediately endeavor to round it out by brilliantly pulling up their horses or vent their displeasure at having missed a goal by jerking them up almost directly in front of the post. Pulling the horse up in this way invariably tears up the field and players should make a rule to let the horses gallop in practice until over the back line, where they can pull up without damaging anything. Captains and officers in charge of the play should call the attention of the players to the occasional necessity of saving the field in this way.

The field should be subdrained and watered, and the best results are obtained if a, gang of men are ready after each clay's practice to come immediately out on the field and repair the most noticeable scars where ponies have cut the turf.

On practice days the players themselves can help out, after goals, turning over with their mallets pieces of sod which have been torn up and pushing them back into place as they ride back to the center of the field. The longer roots are exposed to the air the less likely they are to take vigorous hold on being replaced.

I shall not undertake to go into the question of the selection of ponies at great length. I like to see ponies that are well coupled and keep their feet well under them, and personally I sacrifice speed to handiness, although I know some players who sacrifice everything to speed. I never begin on a pony that is hard-mouthed. I do not advise beginners to try to teach themselves and the pony to play the game at the same time. They can do much better if they take a trained pony and concentrate their attention on themselves. I know experienced players who have ruined a pony or two every year through inability to handle them property, usually on account of hard hands. With these players polo ponies habitually go wrong, as only an occasional horse is found that they can manage. Careful players with light hands can get along with almost any horse.

I consider the practice of docking horses to be brutal and disgusting in the extreme. The only good excuse which I have ever known for this practice is an argument good only in regard to polo ponies-that is, that the tail occasionally gets in the way of a stroke; and there is no doubt that it does where one is taking a full stroke and turning on the ball at the same time. This can be obviated by taking a half stroke when turning on the ball, so that there is no need of ever letting the tail get, in the way of a stroke.

The pony should never be played without bandages or some sort of boots on the forelegs. In ` Dedham we always played in bandages, and so skillful were the grooms that almost never did a bandage become loose. With less skill in placing the bandages they are apt to become a menace, as a bandage unrolling can throw a pony in such a way as to make it very dangerous. The referee should always stop the play instantly when he sees a bandage beginning to become unrolled.

The danger of too much pressure on the tendons, by reason of Straps around felt boots, can be obviated by having elastics on the straps so that the straps will yield to the movement of the leg and not Wild. Playing without stout felt boots or plenty of thickness of bandage over the tendons invites disaster. Sooner or hater the mallet or ball will hit these tender parts in a way that will ruin the horse.

I always make a point of getting my ponies of the same height. I do not believe in changing heights. I think it hurts hitting. If one changes the length of the stick it changes the distance of the hand from the ground, which is unfortunate, as the ,eye becomes accustomed to a certaiu distance and a man hits better with the fewest possible variables. In purchasing a string of mounts I should therefore, wherever possible, select ponies of even height. Equipment. English Saddle is the best for polo. I do not believe in either the Whitman or the Mexican saddle, or in fact in any saddle where the feet are kept under me. One sits too low in the saddle and lacks the rise which one gets front the English saddle in order to turn and to get the nigh-side forward stroke.

It is advisable to buy a complete new set of girths, stirrup leathers, and bandages even y year. Do not trust to old ones. Also the saddles should be thoroughly overhauled each year to make sure the padding has not got packed down and that the girth straps have not got old and untrustworthy. Polo is dangerous enough anyway without taking chances, and the wetting and drying of perspiration from horse and man which the saddle gets three times a week in polo season is enough to rot the strongest sewing. The breaking of a girth or stirrup leather may mean a loss of life, and it. is an unjustifiable risk to take.

I use many varieties of bits of different grades, from a rubber snaffle, which always has a steel chain through the rubber, to the Hanoverian Pelham, with the long bars for curb, which is the sharpest bit that I use. 7 never attempt to use a Mexican bit with a high port, but will discuss the use of bits under the title of "Horsemanship." A horse should have the easiest bit that he will play well under, and as soon as a horse plays perfectly under a sharp bit he should be given one less sharp. The usual bit that the average horse comes to is a Straight Bar Pelham, with short curb bars, the bit itself being round and smooth and of steel. This can be eased, in cases of sore mouth, by a leather cover, and, if the lips chafe, by leather discs set next to the lips.

Crane believes that most ponies play much better with a port varying from one-half inch to two inches in height. I have never used ports.

Until the pony is entirely handy he should have a rnartingale. I have no use for a running martingale, as it disarranges the curb and snaffle in the hand, bringing the snaffle the lower of the two where it does not properly belong; and I have never seen that it helped. The standing martingale answers every purpose, and I believe it to be the best.

As the pony improves in play the martingale should be lengthened gradually, and finally done away with entirely, on a good many horses, on the general rule that the less harness a horse is encumbered with the better.

Some horses have to have shoulder straps to hold the saddle forward, the peculiar shape of their barrel making it impossible to tighten the girths so that in the course of play the saddle won't slip back.

The personal polo outfit.-The breeches should be white and made of twilett, which lasts well, holds its shape, and gives excellent protection to the legs.

The boots should be tan, and made stiff all the way down, so as to protect the ankles from blows. Black hoots should not be used, as they soil the clothes of everybody who comes in contact with them.

I never use, a glove on my right or mallet hand, believing that I have better control of the stick with the bare hand.

Crane says that a soft glove and tape on the handle save tired forearm and prevent cramps. I have never used either, but have been troubled from time to time with cramps, and should recommend such equipment for those who need it.

On the left hand I wear a glove until the fingers are tough enough not to be blistered by action of the reins. Soft chamois gloves are the best. Some prefer white cloth gloves, and these are probably better in rainy weather, although as a rule one does not play polo when it rains. All players should make a rule to have one glove always at the field. By turning a glove inside out it can be used on the other hand.

Players should always wear polo helmets. To play without one is to play in immediate danger of loss of life or of an eye, and is an unjustifiable risk. These helmets should be made so that they protect face and eyes front blows in front and against chance blows from the side.

I always carry both whip and spur oil all ponies. I use Spurs that stand out not more than .x half inch or three-quarters of an inch from the heel, so that I hove to reach for the pony in order to spur him. I recommend this for all but extremely tall players, as a precaution against spurring the horse unintentionally. If there are rowels, they should be filed and blunted so as not to cut or tear him when striking.

I have found the most satisfactory whip to be a whip about 3 1/2 or 4 feet long, a Sharp cutting whip made very limber, with a horn button about two inches wide, flat on the side toward the hand. An ordinary driving whip, cut off the proper length and fitted with a button, answers the purpose admirably. This whip, carried between the reins and the left hand, will almost never get away and does not need to be strapped to the hand. I drop one barely once a year. The length of the whip gives the advantage of being able to hit the pony without losing hold on the reins, as the turn of the wrist while the ]land is well forward will still reach his quarters.

The polo mallet can be conveniently described as being composed of three parts-the head, the handle, and the stick, the stick being that part to which the handle and the head are attached.

Sticks should be very carefully selected and carefully used. The principal thing to avoid is buying sticks which are whippy toward the handle. This is a most common defect, and I find it ruins any Stick for me. Personally, I always use a good stiff stick, the whole weight of the mallet being from 15 ounces to 1 pound; however, the weight of the mallet is a good deal a matter of preference. In general 1 believe the back should have a heavy stick for distance, and No. 2 a light one 'for quickness. In purchasing mallets, care should be taken to get absolutely straight sticks and to see that the angle of the head to the stick is always the same. To measure this, a model angle can be marked somewhere on the wall and every Stick verified so as to preclude the possibility of variation in this important particular.

It has been my experience that flat sides to the handle are far preferable to round handles. Flat sides parallel to the head enable one to tell by the feel of the handle when the mallet is swinging true, a distinct advantage, as the eyes are needed for watching the ball.

When a stick is secured that suits perfectly, it is a good plan to weigh it carefully and register the weight, and then balance it and register the point at which it balances. If in selecting new sticks care be used to approximate as nearly as possible the weight and balance of the stick that has proved to be the best, one variable element will be eliminated, or at least reduced to a minimum.

The place where a mallet begins to weaken first is usually that part of the stick just above where it is inserted into the head. The reason that the stick goes out at this point is that the ball when struck is likely either to be bouncing up so as to hit the stick just above the head, or perhaps the mallet is swinging a little bit low, bringing the round of the ball against the stick. These sticks are of malacca or bamboo, and have an outer shell

which cracks in perpendicular slits. Once the shell has cracked the stick loses its strength and the head begins to twist. There are two ways of reinforcing the winding. The first one, and one which all players should insist on, is by reinforcing the Stick at the point just above the head with a little strip of metal, preferably steel, curved so as to fit the curve of the stick and placed under the winding, which is also used for the same purpose, namely, protection of the stick at that point. Two such metal strips should be provided for each stick, one to catch the front strokes and the other to catch the back strokes. The strips should go about one-fourth around the stick and should extend about 3 inches above the head. The other way of protecting the stick is to wind it with rubber bands; in fact, some players have rubber bands made for the purposesmall circles of round rubber, of which they place from three to six at intervals around the stick over the winding and immediately above the head to catch the impact of the ball. Many players use both of these devices.

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