Cowboy Polo is similar to its British counterpart, traditional polo, in the game format, although most other aspects of the game are different. Cowboy Polo is a mounted sport in which riders attempt to score on the opponent’s goal using a ball. Players hit the ball using a long mallet while maintaining positions astride the horse.
Cowboy Polo is a descendant of traditional polo. Versions have polo have existed since 5th Century B.C. where competitors played a variation of the sport in Persia. Since that time, the game has been a sport for military officers and royal families. The Westernization of the Arabic culture spread polo to Britain, where the sport became very popular. To this day, many British royals and elite American families take part in in polo. Cowboy Polo was born in America by horse enthusiasts hoping to make the game more accessible to the non-elite of the community.
Cowboy Polo originated in Palmetto, Florida in the year 1952. The riders used mallets made of palm wood. Seven years later, the Cowboy Polo Association was established. Many people across the United States now participate in Cowboy Polo. Cowboy Polo began as an equestrian sport that was more access than traditional polo. The sport was designed to be for anyone who wanted to learn and any horse that could play.
Cowboy Polo is set up in an arena divided into five zones. The center zone is either 50 or 60 feet deep. Posts at either end mark the goals, which are set 20 feet wide. During the game, each team of five players attempts to score on the goal with the ball.
Each zone on the field is occupied by two players, one from each team. Players must stay within their selected zones and pass the ball forward to their teammates. The zone rule ensures that each horse is not over-exerted. Unlike traditional polo, in which each player has a number of horses to ride during the game, cowboy polo has only one horse per rider.
The opponents have four periods, called chukkers. Each chukker lasts five minutes with a period of rest in between. During the chukkers, the game moves quickly and competitively.
Teams attempt to score on their opponent’s goal. If the player is in the first zone, which is closest to the goal, the team receives one point. Two points are awarded if a goal is scored from the second zone, but only if the ball has not been touched by any of the first zone players. Any player that scores an untouched goal from the center zone is awarded three points. The team with the most points at the end of four chukkers is the winner.
Tack and Equipment
Players use western tack for Cowboy Polo. The players use western saddles and equipment. There are not specific regulations for bits or hackamores, and most standard issue bits are used. Horses wear protective boots since the horses in Cowboy Polo often experience a lot of physical contact and swinging mallets.
While the first Cowboy Polo mallets were made of palmetto, most today are made from fiberglass. As the mallets are specialized, many have been passed down through generations. The mallets are fiberglass shafts with a head made of hard rubber. Mallets are not to surpass 60 inches in length. The ball in Cowboy Polo is a round, red ball made of rubber and about the size of a basketball or medicine ball.
The style of dress for Cowboy Polo is generally western style as well. Many players wear protective helmets, though some will also wear a western style felt hat as well. The players generally wear western boots and blue jeans. Different teams are usually denoted by different colored shirts.
Cowboy Polo Horses
While the horses used in traditional polo are Thoroughbreds, the Cowboy Polo designed for every man does not have specifications for which horses are used. Those players who desired a polo that anyone could participate in decided that any horse should be able to participate. Most Cowboy Polo players prefer to play with Quarter horses, but any horse can play.
Quarter horses are ideal for Cowboy Polo because of their speed and agility. Quarter horses were named such because in quarter-mile races, the Quarter horse breed was constantly outpacing the other breeds. Quarter horses are able to gallop at a speeds up to 88.5km/hr over short distances.
The Quarter horse is built with very muscled legs. Their hindquarters and shoulders are strong and thick. Quarter horses have a low, stocky build. Their chests are wide, cannons short, hocks thick and gaskins muscular. Their build allows them to run quickly over a short distance, but also to be agile. As each horse in Cowboy Polo only runs distances of 50 feet at a time, the Quarter horses are best suite for this. Quarter horses are also able to turn quickly. The low to the ground horses can decelerate, turn and rapidly accelerate faster than any other breed of horse.
Cowboy Polo Players
Cowboy Polo is a sport in which anyone with access to a horse can participate. Most clubs open the sport up to men and women of all ages. Generally, participants are between the ages of 16 and 60. Cowboy Polo is a sport for anyone looking to try an exciting sport. The Cowboy Polo matches invite spectators to all of the exciting events. Cowboy Polo has been compared to hockey on horseback. It is a physical, rough-and-tumble sport befitting of the other rodeo sports popular in the West.
For many families, Cowboy Polo is a sport passed down through generations since the 1950’s. The sport is faltering in popularity mainly because rodeo sports have become more attractive with prize money offered and larger stages for competition. Many enthusiasts hope to carry on the sport. The game is competitive and exciting both spectators and participants. The rough and fast-paced Cowboy Polo games are exhilarating, which is why so many players come back to the game again and again. These participants hope to see the sport live on so that the everyday American can enjoy the thrill of polo.