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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

Rules For Polo - Part 1

( Originally Published Late 1920 )

The rules that govern polo are simple and, except for some very few but important aspects, not difficult to understand and master. All players should master the rules when they first learn to play and should read them carefully once a year in order to keep them fresh in the memory. It would be wise for the captain of a team to read over the rules with his team before all important matches.

No rules are perfect. The rules of the American Polo Association, in the main adequate, leave a few ambiguities which I consider unfortunate. The most important rules are those which relate to dan gerous riding. As careful observance of these rules is likely to be a matter of life and death to players at any minute, and may also change the result of a match by directly affecting the score, the supreme necessity of absolute clearness in the presentation and general understanding of the rules need not be further argued. In this most important particular the American rules are unsatisfactory. For exam ple, under the American rules as now written it is not clear which has the right of way, a man who has last hit the ball and has swung somewhat be

fore reaching it for his second stroke, or another player following more directly along the line the ball is traveling. The rule says one or the other has the right of way and doesn't say which. (See Polo Association book for 1918, page 58, 27A Right of Way.) This point is covered in a much more definite and clear manner by the Indian Polo Association, which provides explicitly that the man who last hit the ball loses the possession "if lie shall have deviated from pursuing the exact course of the ball."

Another objection to the American rules is the fact that although there are offenses varying in seriousness from deliberately riding an opponent down at speed to a groom's putting his foot over the side hoard in handing out a new mallet, or a player's appearing on the field with too sharp spurs, yet these offenses are all classified alike, called fouls, and are liable to a similar penalty, namely, the infliction of a half goal. It is true that the referee is given the right also to suspend a player for the match and he may stop the game and throw the ball in at the point the foul occurred.

It seems as though these offenses and violations of rules ought to he reclassified and the penalties made mandatory. In the rules adopted by the Philippine Islands Polo Association, fouls are classified as dangerous or otherwise and lesser offenses are called infractions of rules and not classed as fouls. In case of a foul which in the opinion of the referee is deliberate and dangerous, the player must be suspended, a penalty of one goal assessed, and, if in the opinion of the referee the play was affected disadvantageously to the side fouled, the referee must. Stop the play and throw in the ball in addition to the other two penalties. This takes away from a player any inducement deliberately to ride down a man who is just going to make a goal in order to save the game at the last minute of play by accepting a half goal penalty in place of the goal which he knew would have been made. I believe the best interests of the game are served by expressing the referee's duty more vigorously. The matter is not made optional with him; he is obliged to do it. Most rules empower the referee.

I give the Philippine Islands rules on these points in their entirety.

The rules and diagrams concerning right of way and defining dangerous riding are modeled closely on the rules of the Indian Polo Association, and in some cases taken verbatim.


16. A foul is any violation of Field Rules No. 18 (defining dangerous riding), 19 (in regard to right of way), 20 (in regard to players meeting), or 21 (illegal use of mallet). Except in extra periods played on account of a tie . . . . . . fouls will he penalized as follows:

(a) If the foul is of such nature as, in the opinion of the referee, to be dangerous to the life of man or horse, the referee shall impose a penalty of one goal. If the foul is not of such nature as, in the opinion of the referee, to he dangerous to the life of man or horse, the referee shall impose a penalty of one half goal.

(b) If, in the opinion of the referee, a foul involving danger was deliberate, he shall suspend the player committing the foul for the match, or if, in his opinion, any player for any reason shows himself incapable of playing safely, he may suspend him ; or in cases of repeated commission of fouls not involving danger or of repeated violation of rules after attention has been called to them, the referee may suspend the player for the match.

(c) If, in the opinion of the referee, a foul shall have affected the play disadvantageously to the side fouled, lie shall in addition to other penalties stop the play by sounding a whistle and shall throw the ball in at the point where it was when the foul was made.

(d) If, in the opinion of the referee, a foul has not affected the play disadvantageously to the side fouled, he shall permit the game to continue and declare the penalty to the offending player, if practicable, and, at the end of the period, to the scorer.


17. Infractions of General Rules 3 (specification of balls and mallets) and 4 (qualifications of ponies) and of Field Rule No. 23 (covering use of elbow or hand in riding off, assistance coming on to field, etc. ) do not constitute fouls but may be penalized as follows:

(a) The referee is authorized to give the offending player one warning before assessing any penalty.

(b) If, however, the offense seems to be deliberate or aggravated or is repeated, the referee will, in his discretion either (1) assess a penalty of one half goal, or, (2) in case the infraction of the rules shall have, in the opinion of the referee, affected the play disadvantageously to the side fouled, the referee may stop the play and throw in the ball. But in cases covered by this rule the referee shall not, however, both stop the play and assess the penalty of one half goal. In extra periods played on account of a tie, as provided for by Field Rule No. 10, a deliberate, aggravated or repeated infraction of rules will be penalized as provided for fouls in Field Rule No. 10.

(c) In case of failure to appear at the proper time or of infraction of General Rule No. 9 (uniform and hat) or of Field Rule No. 6 (keeping field clear), which infraction shall not have affected the play, the referee may impose a fine of ten pesos on offending player or players.

(d) In case of refusal of either team to play after having been ordered to by the referee, the referee shall after a reasonable time, declare the game forfeited and award it to the opponents.


18. Careless or dangerous horsemanship or lack of consideration for the safety of others is forbidden.

The following are examples of riding prohibited under this rule:

(a) Bumping at an angle dangerous to a player or his pony.

(b) Zig-zagging in front of another player riding at a gallop.

(c) Pulling across or over a pony's forelegs in such a manner as to risk tripping the pony.

19. (A) A player may ride out an antagonist, or interpose his pony before his antagonist, so as to prevent the latter reaching the ball, but he may not cross another player in possession of the ball, except at such a distance that the said player shall not be compelled to check his pony to avoid a collision.

(Example. )

A hits the ball to X.

If B can unquestionably reach the ball at X, without causing A to check to avoid a collision, then B is entitled to possession, and can take an off-side backhander at IS'.

But if there is reasonable doubt, then it is B's duty to swerve towards It' (the line of the ball), and take a nearside backhander, and if, in taking that backhander, or afterwards, his pony in the slightest degree crosses the line of the hall, :r "foul" should be given against him.

(B) If two players are riding from different directions to hit the ball, and a collision appears probable, then the player in possession of the ball (that is, who last hit. the bill], or if neither have hit the ball, the player who is coming from the direction from which the ball was last hit) must be given way to.


No.2 (red), in possession of the ball, hits to X.

All three players ride for the bull, No. 1 (red), riding off the back (blue) all the way, and a collision between the three is imminent at X.

No. 2 (red) is entitled to possession.

A dangerous foul should be given against No. 1 (red) either if:

(1)-No. 2 has to check to avoid collision with the back (blue), caused by the latter being forced into the position shown, by the riding off of No. 1 (red) ; or, (2)-Back (blue) has to check to avoid accident, from being shut in between No. 3 (red), and No. 1 (red).

(C) any player who follows the exact line of the ball from the direction from which it has been lust hit, is in possession of the ball rather than any player coming from any other direction.

(D) The last hitter is in possession; provided that no other player can, without causing the hitter to check his pony to avoid a collision, get on the line of the ball in front of him. Under these circumstances the last hitter may not ride into the adversary from behind, but must, if necessary, take the ball on the near side of his own pony.

B hits the ball to X.

A rides him off at A' B'. A is entitled to possession.

(E) No player shall be deemed to be in possession of the ball by reason of his being the last hitter if he shall have deviated from pursuing the exact course of the ball.

(F) Any player who rides to meet the ball on the exact line of its course is in possession rather than any other player riding at an angle from any direction. (Example.)

A hits the ball out from behind to X. B rides to meet it, and C to take it on. A collision is imminent between B and C at X.

B must be given way to, because he is on the line on which the ball traveled, even though conting in an opposite direction, whereas C would cross that line.

(G) Any player riding from the direction from which the ball has been last hit, at an angle to its course, has possession rather than any player riding at an angle in the opposite direction.

(H) If two players are riding from the same direction, that player is in possession whose course is at the smallest angle to the line of the ball.

(I) The line of the ball is the line of its course, or that tine produced at the moment any question arises.

Note: The Right of Way, as defined in the previous rules, shall not lie entered upon until players coming down a previous right of way have had a chance to check or turn. Note: Where the ball hits the side board or a pony, the direction in which Me ball was last hit will be assumed to be the course of the ball.

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