Polo’s specific origins is unknown, but it is believed to be the oldest team sport. There are indications that it was first played by nomadic warriors thousands of years ago. The earliest recorded game was in BC 600, with the Turkomans (ancient Iraqis) prevailing over the Persians in a public match. It was not until the mid-1800s, though, that Captain John Watson of the British Cavalry 13th Hussars wrote rules and etiquette for the game.
In 1874, sophisticated rules, called the Hurlingham Rules, established the off-sides rule and limited the number of players on a team. As teams formed and the sport grew, governing associations developed to promote it. The Polo Association, known in America as the United States Polo Association, established in 1980, standardized rules, established the game’s handicaps, and coordinated matches. Since the game mostly involved the nobility and the wealthy, etiquette surrounding appropriate attire and actions of the audience grew along with the game’s popularity.
While a wide range of attire is acceptable at polo matches and the etiquette is not specifically written, Vanity Fair suggests that in tournaments leading up to the final, “smart” casual attire is appropriate. At the finals, however, men will wear a jacket or suit. Ladies typically wear high heels (unless they plan to divot stomp) and a hat. Many clubs have established dress codes, but others allow a range from dressier denims to “garden party chic,” says St. Regis Polo. At charity events, however, spectators wear flat shoes and participate in the “divot stomp” at halftime, says Sport Polo.
At the polo match, spectators often sit either in grandstand or bleacher type seating, or in an exclusive “members’ enclosure.” According to Debrett’s, the difference between bleacher seating and members’ enclosure seating is that bleacher sitters each a picnic lunch on blankets on the lawn, while members enjoy a “lavish sit-down lunch, afternoon tea and continuous champagne.”
During the five-minute halftime, spectators may join in the tradition of divot stomping. Spectators bear down on the field, stomping the tufts of grass kicked up by the ponies back into place. Also called “treading in,” most spectators join in the fun, meet other spectators, and even the players as they walk their ponies.
In polo, the participants ride horses, but refer to them as ponies, never horses. The playing field, called a pitch, is large, so spectators often carry binoculars. They tend to watch the action of the largest cluster of players rather than the ball, since it is very small and difficult to see.
- Photo Credit Polo Players image by Clarence Alford from Fotolia.com
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