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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

Polo Horsemanship - Part 2

( Originally Published Late 1920 )



The best players get in the line of the play, which is the line the ball is traveling, and, always watching where the corresponding opponent is, hold themselves ready to pick up the play with a rush when the time comes. As soon as it is necessary, in order to prevent the opposing player from getting by or getting the ball, they should get up speed and hold it while the rush lasts. If a chance comes to hit the ball the player should then put his pony at top speed and come right along the right of way, going at such speed that nobody will risk coming into it at any angle but a safe one.

Ponies that are saved in this way get to know when speed is wanted of them and will respond to the master's signal in a way which ponies that are needlessly galloped about by their masters never do. A pony that is needlessly galloped is always looking for a chance to save himself, as otherwise if he goes constantly at top speed he will soon be played out. The pony that is saved by his master is fresh and eager for a rush and all the time waiting for a signal to move.

In speaking of equipment, I mentioned the matter of bits, which is one of the most important elements of horsemanship, and one that seems to be least studied and understood by men who are accustomed to use horses. I know in my own case, although I had ridden from the age of four, I knew practically nothing about bits or the science of bitting when at the age of twenty-four I took up polo. I grade my bits as follows:

1. Rubber snaffle that has served me for but one of the very many ponies I have played.

2. Steel snaffle, broken. I have always preferred this with large and flat rings.

3. Straight-bar Pelham. This bit I find most of my ponies come to play. I have them with four different lengths of the curb bars giving different degrees of leverage on the curb chain. Ponies with very light months can be helped by covering the bit with leather.

4. Bit and bridoon. I use these with two different lengths of curl) bars, medium and long. Some ponies have to be used permanently with a bit of this severity, but I try to work the ponies gradually to an easier bit.

5. Gag snaffle, without curb.

6. Gag snaffle with curb.

7. Hanoverian Pelham, with and without steel rings which revolve on the hit and prevent the horse from getting a grip on it, with his teeth. This is the severest bit I have ever used.

I am not sure but that a horse might be broken of a desire to pull by the use of the Mexican high port, but I advise against the use of a bit like that for playing.

When first putting ponies into polo I test them until I find a bit they are afraid of and that they won't under any circumstances take hold of. Playing them then with a very light rein and an easy pull, I get them to obey the voice and the indication of raising the hand which presages a pull on the curb. At the start I usually have the curb chain very tight, so that the pressure on the jaw comes very quickly. In his first stages of development I usually have the pony's head tied down fairly low with the standing martingale. As soon as the horse has responded to this bit in such a way as to make me feel _confident that he understands the signals and will obey them without the necessity for punishment, I immediately make the bit easier. The first step in this process is loosening the links on the curb chain so the curb will. not begin to press until it is pulled a little farther back and lengthening the martingale to give the head more freedom. The next process is to move up into the next easiest bit ill the way I have mentioned, sometimes skipping one or two. Sometimes I pass from Hanoverian Pelham clear to the straight-bar Pelham with the long bar on the curb, sometimes merely to the bit and bridoon, and this process continues as long as the horse is naturally at ]ionic and going satisfactorily with the easier bit. As the horse gets more and more perfect in the pane, the standing martingale may be lengthened until finally, in some good horses, it can be taken off.

Crane has found that the position of the bit in the mouth makes a great difference with his ponies; some play better it the bit is not too high. I play all of my ponies with the bit just easily reaching the corner of the mouth without pressing. The straight-bar Pelham with 3 1/2 to 4 inch curb bar", I consider one which is usually the most satisfactory; most poaies will come to play well with it.

The first three bits on the list can be used only on ponies with the most delicate and tender mouths and unusually responsive to the bit. In my experience only one out of four or five good ponies have such months, and there is no need of paralyzing the pony's mouth even if you have a sharp bit. If the policy which I recommend is adopted, the indications may be given with a very light touch, mid horses will get along perfectly well even with the sharpest and most cruel bits. I play with very loose rein and pull on the bit the least possible amount.

After the earlier stages of training and testing are past, it is inadvisable, however, to play a pony under a very sharp bit, relying upon a light hand not to use it. The pony with a light mouth will be afraid of a sharp bit the minute it is in his mouth, and many ponies refuse to gallop against a bit which they are afraid of. If a man wants to get speed out of a pony with a light mouth, he should put on the lightest bit with which lie can stop him, because in this way only can he get his highest efficiency. The gentle lrazzdling of a pony in stopping has a great deal to do with the speed which can be gotten out of him, and light-handed players are apt to be the fastest. As speed is the essential requisite for really first-class polo-enough said.

The ponies also get to understand the feel of the legs in the saddle and will respond. to them in turn- ing,, but I will leave to the expert horse trainers the various uses of the legs, to indicate to the horse the desire to turn, changing leads, etc. I have never made much of a. study of this, and have let my horse learn about the pressure of the leg more unconsciously than otherwise. Of course, he does learn it, because a man shifts his position in the saddle in order to bring his horse around.

When a. pony that has been playing steadily well begins either to pull or to have some trick, it indicates that something is the matter, and instead of putting on a sharper bit the player should find out the reason for this change. Nine times out of ten he will find that the pony's legs are beginning to go, or that lie has trouble with his teeth, which is most likely to be the case if the pony holds his head to one side. The first indications 1 have of a pony weakening in his forelegs is the fact that he begins to take hold of the, bit when he has not done so before. This means that the pony doesn't want to stop and that he is afraid of it. The cure is to lay the pony up and either "blister" or "fire" him, or if these measures are not necessary give him a good rest. If the groom is careless and does not tell the player that the legs are beginning to bother or swell and show signs of weakness in the tendons, by sharpening the hit and keeping on playing, it is possible to ruin a first-rate pony that otherwise, by immediate care, would be played for years.. I have played some of my ponies seven years, and Allan Forbes played one of his ponies in all of his matches for a period of ten years. He played the position of No. 1 and often played only two ponies in his very important matches. He was active and light and knew the art of saving his ponies.

There are a number of niceties about polo which it is well for players to learn. In the first place, almost all ponies, when beginning, are awkward about taking the boards. Players should have their ponies trained to run along the boards and jump them at speed, going over them at angles without swerving, which they very readily learn to do. If the ponies are not specially trained to this they v are apt to trip on the boards some time and go down or shy at them and possibly shy into another pony going at speed, which might make a foul which would be perfectly avoidable by a little foresight.

In coming lip on the ball before hitting, the hand am should be held low and exerting a slight pressure on the pony's month, enough to steady' him and show him that the rider is alert. The greatest care should be taken to give no jerk whatever nor any very, great change of' the hand- or legs at the moment of hitting. A jerk on the rein or a jab of the spur will surely result in the horse giving some little check as the stroke is made which will be most disastrous to the accuracy of the stroke. Ponies are often spoiled in this way, and it is a fault which takes a long time to cure. The best way I have found to cure ponies of a defect of this kind is to get them out where there are a number of balls lying around and to swing all the time so that the mallet is continually moving. If one ball is passed over without hitting because the pony tried to shy, the nest hall may be taken, but in any case the, utmost care should be taken not to catch the pony either on the bit or with the spur or whip when the stroke is made.

If the pony has a practice of shyinh from the ball occasionally, it is well to touch him with the spur before he reaches it, making the stroke without any touch either of the curb or spur, but if he shies at the time of hitting, punish him afterwards by giving hint a sharp dig with the spur, possibly a sharp stroke of the whip, and accompanied by a good active reminder on the curb, all as in the nature of punishment. The pony should be then set at the ball again and reminded once again with the spur before the time comes to hit, not as the stroke is made. If lie still persists in shying, he should be carefully drilled to eliminate it, but I recommend strongly against digging with the spur at the montent the stroke is made.

It is well to hang a polo mallet in the Stall with a new pony in order to accustom him to the sight and nearness of it.

I shall not make any extended comment on the subject of training horses. Anybody who wants to train his pony had better read that which has been written on the subject by masters of polo. There are a great many exercises at which ponies Should be put, such as bending between posts, riding past other ponies going at speed, pushing against other ponies, and turning and following the ball, etc. I have little time to do it, and do not feel expert at it. What little training of ponies I have accomplished has been done by taking a mallet and going out and hitting a ball around until I could get the pony into the game and then playing him until he became good, only staying by those which showed sufficient aptitude for the game to play after this imperfect and casual method of development.

The only suggestion, I should make are that the rider should always try to be quiet with the horse and very firm with him. If he develops any particular trait, Such as shying, checking or objecting to nigh-side work, throwing his head when the ball is struck, swerving over the ball or on back strokes turning before the ball is struck , practically the whole time should be devoted to curing Such defect or defects until they are eradicated. It is most important that the horse should feel that the game is a matter of course, that it is the easy and natural thing, and that there is nothing unusually excithig or strange about it.



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