Polo is an equestrian sport that requires agile, athletic horses with power and stamina. Not all horse breeds possess the necessary physical and mental attributes to excel at polo. Selecting the right mount is critical for success and safety on the polo field. This article explores popular polo horse breeds, including the Thoroughbred, Arabian, Argentinian Polo Pony, and popular cross breeds. Key considerations in choosing a polo pony, such as build, speed, endurance, temperament and trainability are also discussed. Proper care and conditioning of these equine athletes is vital as well to prevent injury and enable peak performance. Author: polo-kirill-yurovskiy.co.uk
Speed and Agility
The Thoroughbred is one of the most popular breeds used for competitive polo. Primarily bred for horse racing, Thoroughbreds possess lean frames built for acceleration and swift changes of direction, ideal for the fast pace of a polo match. Their long strides allow them to rapidly traverse the field while their athleticism enables tight turns following the ball. Thoroughbreds have excelled at the highest levels of polo thanks to these innate physical gifts.
Thoroughbreds tend to be energetic and highly-strung due to their hot blood. While spirited, most Thoroughbreds exhibit intelligence and a willingness to work. Their energetic nature requires consistent exercise and training to prevent anxiety or destructive behavior when confined. When properly conditioned, their mental drive translates into relentless stamina and concentration on the field.
The Arabian’s legendary stamina and athleticism has made it another established polo mount, especially in warmer climates. Originally bred by nomadic Bedouins in desert conditions, Arabians possess remarkable endurance capabilities and efficient metabolisms. These energetic horses can maintain top speed and exercise rigorously in punishing heat for prolonged periods. Well-conditioned Arabians rarely tire, a vital trait for a sport with seven minute chukkers.
Arabians are notoriously smart, sensitive and eager to bond with riders. This allows for more responsive, intricate training essential for high-level polo. Their active minds couple with physical talent, translating into intuitive horses that anticipate play and positioning. Arabians seem to thrive on the mental stimulation of chasing the ball alongside human teammates. Their athleticism and work ethic is ideally fitted for the sustained exertion of polo.
Argentinian Polo Pony
In Argentina, where polo reigns amongst equestrian sports, a distinct pony breed has been selectively cultivated for the sport since the 1800s. Compared to lighter Thoroughbreds and Arabians, the Argentinian Polo Pony has a stockier, muscular build enabling greater acceleration and maneuverability. They stand between 14 to 16 hands high, strong enough to withstand collisions yet compact for nimbleness. This powerful build allows them to turn, start and stop with cat-like quickness, essential for stick and ball work.
Aggression and Power
Bred specifically for polo, these ponies exhibit the ideal combo of responsive obedience paired with fierce competitiveness. They aggressively pursue the ball, demonstrating tremendous determination and speed. The breed displays an innate sense of the game coupled with fearless intensity. Their stocky power translates into the ability to bump opponents off the line of the ball. Argentinian Polo Ponies thrive with significant conditioning and consistent play.
The best polo mounts often combine favorable traits from established breeds via selective crossing. Thoroughbreds may be crossed with Quarter Horses or pony breeds to enhance stockiness and maneuverability. Arabian and Barb crosses can improve stamina. Crosses aim to incorporate versatility, responsiveness and high energy. Certain crosses, like the thoroughbred/quarter horse, have become popular polo pony breeds in their own right after generations of strategic pairings for the sport.
In North America, the cross between Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse bloodlines has resulted in the American Polo Pony. This breed adds Quarter Horse bulk and quickness to racehorse speed. In Australia, local Stock Horses have been crossed with Arabians, Thoroughbreds and various pony breeds to create an exceptionally agile and hardy playing pony. No matter the pairing, the ultimate goal is merging key physical and mental attributes critical for the demands of competitive polo.
Choosing the Right Breed
When assessing prospective polo mounts, certain physical traits indicate suitability for the sport across breeds. Barrel-chested, strong builds provide essential core strength yet allow sharp lateral movements. Compact frames ranging 14 to 16 hands supply requisite maneuverability. Long, sloping shoulders enable lengthy strides for covering ground while muscular hindquarters generate explosive power out of turns. Sure-footed, flat knees provide stability for sudden stops and direction changes. An alert, game-ready countenance hints at mental willingness critical in a match pony.
Training and Temperament
Alongside correct conformation, a polo pony must exhibit an energetic yet obedient temperament amenable to training. Eagerness to work couples with responsiveness to rider cues, especially critical given the lack of hands-on contact while swinging a mallet. Intelligence and competitive drive allow polo ponies to become partners versus merely mounts. They seem to develop an innate comprehension of the game – chasing down the ball with determination, positioning themselves favorably, and anticipating plays. This mentality requires patience and expertise to properly nurture through breeding and conditioning.
Care and Maintenance
The intense athletic demands of polo require optimal nutrition to maintain peak fitness and prevent injury or exhaustion. Polo ponies need high-quality feed providing sufficient calories from carbohydrates and fats for sustaining energy as well as muscle-building protein. Roughage should be balanced to avoid colic. Supplements like biotin, Vitamin E and electrolytes will nurture coat, hooves and hydration. High-performance feeds specially formulated for working equines offer proper polo pony nutrition.
The rigors of play coupled with stopping and turning elevates injury risks, especially leg strains or fractures. Preventative measures are vital for longevity in the sport. Thorough warm-ups and cooldowns bookend matches to enhance flexibility while ultrasound and ice bath therapies aid recovery. Protective boot and leg wraps safeguard limbs during chukkers. The most successful players carefully monitor their pony string for signs of soreness or fatigue. Proactive injury prevention preserves prized polo horses.
Truly exceptional polo relies on harmonious partnerships between riders and their equine teammates based on aligned capabilities and temperaments. Novice and younger players often benefit from steadier, experienced ponies until their horsemanship develops. Bold, fiercely competitive horses match best with assertive, highly-skilled competitors. Optimally pairing players and mounts allows each to realize their potential within the sport.
The future of polo relies on selective, responsible breeding programs concentrating coveted qualities of athleticism, stamina, trainability and aggression. Certain regional breeds have arisen through generations of strategic pairings tailored exclusively for polo. Supporting reputable breeders allows the sport to continue evolving specialized horses shaped for success on the field. As the adage states, “Breed the best to the best and hope for the best.”