About the Team
The MSU Polo Team was established in the fall of 1999 when the Detroit Polo Club approached the MSU Horsemen’s Association to inquire about forming an intercollegiate team. With the additional help of Meadowview Farms Polo Club, the club began the difficult process of building up a program from the ground. Armed with foot mallets and a wooden horse, five determined members set out on a mission to spread polo throughout the campus. Their infectious enthusiasm tripled the membership in one year. Today, the club has over 50 members, 10 horses, and continues to grow as a club every year. A consistent contender in regional competitions, the MSU team is looking forward to competing again!
In polo, horses are called ponies regardless of their size. Most polo ponies in the United States are former racehorses: Thoroughbreds with exceptional speed and agility. A breed of Argentine Thoroughbreds, lovingly dubbed “Argies” are popularly regarded as the premier polo ponies.
A typical polo game has four 7 ½ minute quarters called “chukkers.” Riders swap ponies after each chukker, and sometimes in the middle of a chukker if a horse becomes too winded. In intercollegiate polo, both teams bring a string of 6 to 7 horses to a game and both teams ride each other’s horses to keep the playing field equal. There are three players on each team, wearing jerseys numbered 1 through 3. Although the roles of these players are offense, midfielder, and defense, the players share the responsibilities of these positions amongst themselves: they may change their line up at any point within the game.
To start the game, players on opposite teams line up facing the umpire for the bowl in. The umpire (also mounted on a polo pony) then bowls the polo ball straight down the alley of space between the teams horses. As soon as the umpire brings his/her arm back to release the ball, players may engage in movement. The players in the first position will often start bumping one another to push their opponent toward their own goal even before the umpire releases the ball. The players line up for a new bowl in after every goal.
The rules of polo are based primarily around protecting the horses’ safety. Although contact between horses and riders is allowed and encouraged through bumping, rigorous rules prevent riders from performing dangerous bumps. That is, riders cannot bump a horse moving at a different speed than their own or bump a horse at an angle. Horses must move together side by side, shoulder to shoulder, to push each other laterally away from the ball. Like in hockey, there is no high hooking in polo, although hooking is allowed below the level of a horses’ belly. Most importantly, players and ponies must respect the “line of the ball.” This imaginary line follows the trajectory of the ball in either direction. Think of the line by the ball as a double yellow line on a highway: players cannot cross the line without fouling. The player who approaches the ball with the least angle in regards to the line of the ball rightfully may take possession of the ball. If other players are in the way, they must safely clear. Most fouls in polo occur when players do not respect the line of the ball.
During the game of polo, the horses’ tails are braided and tied up along the tailbone to prevent them from entangling with the mallet. Their manes are also kept roached to help the player see the ball and to keep the horses cool. Horses are equipped with an English-type saddle specifically designed for polo. A girth, an over-girth, and a breastplate help hold the saddle in place. Two sets of reins are used. Martingales keep the ponies from throwing their heads around, and the horses’ lower legs are always wrapped for support and protection.