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The average size of a polo pony is from 15-16 hands (one hand = 4 inches), measured from the withers. The minimum height limit is 14.2 hands. A polo pony is still called a ‘pony’ and not a ‘horse’ as the former minimum height limit was only 14 hands.
The quality of the pony is a really important factor. Unlike any other sport, the pony defines the game and plays a substantial role in a player’s proficiency. It should be considered as important as any player on the field. In fact, by definition alone, a polo pony, “a horse trained for use as a mount in playing polo and characterized primarily by endurance, athleticism, speed, courage, and docility,” is often considered the single greatest determinant of match outcome.
Training programs for polo ponies are continuous and rigorous to reach the standard of fitness and agility required. They are trained to be handled with one hand on the reins (left hand) and to be responsive to the rider’s leg and weight cues. This style is called neck reigning and is done so the players can ride with the mallet in their right hand.
The equipment a polo pony requires is different than that used in other equestrian sports. A polo pony will not be successful without a competent groom (or multiple grooms all familiar with the horses). As the unsung heroes of the game, the grooms take care of all the day-to-day responsibilities behind the scenes.
The tack used on a poly pony differs from horse to horse depending on their strengths and weaknesses but include a polo saddle, Pelham bridle, a breastplate, martingale, drawreins and a gagbit. Ponies will also have bandages and/or boots to protect their legss.
The polo saddle is made from either suede or leather depending on the riders preference. They have a low pommel and a small or no knee roll, this is to allow for as much flexibility for the rider as possible.
Each player must have more than one pony so that tired mounts can be exchanged for fresh mounts between or even during chukkas.
Manes are shaved and the ponies’ tails are wrapped or braided to prevent the hazard of becoming entangled with players’ mallets or reins.
Historically, some of the best polo ponies in the world came from Argentina which has created a stud book for polo ponies. Elsewhere there is no particular breed, although horses used for polo are often cross bred with Thoroughbred. The best polo ponies are of the thoroughbred blood whose main qualities are heart, speed, wind, stamina, with the ability to accelerate, stop and turn quickly; and whose temperament is amenable to the rigors of match play. Many polo players describe their best mounts as having big hearts, an aggressive confidence, and a feel for the game. The preference for mares, geldings or stallions is a personal one.