Polo dates back to the 6th Century BCE and its story is a fascinating one. Born from the Association who wrote the rules of the game in 1875, our connection to the sport means its heritage inspires the very design and development of our clothing. Its roots are grounded in our DNA and we’d love to share its story with you.
It is difficult to pinpoint who invented the game which was first played over 2,500 years ago. The game, which has been likened to ‘hockey on horseback’, is believed to have arisen among the nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia, who honed their horsemanship and fighting skills by playing a game very much like the one we know today.
What is known, is that Polo was played in King Darius I’s Persian Empire by large teams of horsemen with few to no formal rules. From Persia, the sport migrated to Arabia and Tibet, and then to India, China and Japan. Polo has a variety of noble heritage. It’s known that Prince Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th and last shõgun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan, loved the sport.
(‘Polo’ is an Anglicisation of the Tibetan Balti word for ball)
Polo first became Britain’s cup of tea in the 1850s, when a group of tea planters discovered it in Manipur, an Indian princely state on the Burmese border, and founded the world’s first Polo club in Silchar, in nearby Assam. Polo also captured the interest of key British figures such as Winston Churchill, Prince Harry, and H.R.H The Prince of Wales who have enjoyed the sport over the years, and some of whom, are still playing today.
The world’s oldest active club, the Calcutta Polo Club, was founded in 1863 and the Malta Polo Club in 1868, by British officers stopping off on their way home from India. In 1869, Captain Edward ‘Chicken’ Hartopp of the British cavalry regiment, the 10th Hussars, read about the game in The Field magazine and, with his brother officers, organised the first-ever match in England, against a team from the 9th Lancers.
From this, the Royal Horse Guards were quick to take up this new sport of ‘hockey on horseback’ and the rest is history.
The first game was played on the grounds in 1874, however, it wasn’t until 1875, when in Hurlingham, London the Hurlingham Polo Committee drew up the first formal set of rules of the game, to protect the interests of the sport, the players and the horses. In 1925 the Committee was redesignated as the Hurlingham Polo Association.
This groundbreaking game was organised in the UK, and took place on Hounslow Heath, June 1st 1870. The teams were 10th Hussars (blue and yellow jerseys) vs 9th Lancers – (blue and red jerseys) and there were 8 recorded played on each team.
It was in that same year that British settlers organised the first match in Argentina. Then in 1876, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas St. Quintin took the game to Australia, and James Gordon Bennett Jr., a publisher and known eccentric, who’d first seen a match at Hurlingham, introduced the sport to the USA.
Today, the game of Polo is played in 77 countries worldwide, from the US, Central and South America and the Caribbean, to Europe, the Middle East, India, South East Asia, China, Australia and New Zealand.
Of those, a total of 38 countries are affiliated with the Hurlingham Polo Association, which also works closely with the Association Argentina de Polo, the United States Polo Association and the Federation of International Polo. The HPA, is registered as a not for profit company, which as well as governing the game, is also responsible for English national teams at all levels and the development of young players from the age of nine. Over the past 14 years, it has donated £1.5 million to the Polo Charity which provides support for injured players; for the development of players in full-time education, and for the welfare of ponies.
In the 150 years since the first game of Polo was played in the UK, it has grown to become a much-loved sport, which draws crowds from around the world, and pays homage to its history and heritage.
Since its establishment Polo has evolved to be one of the most gender-diverse sports in the world. Polo is one of the only sports where male and female players can compete at the same level within the same match.
Within its seasons, Polo can be spotted being played within local matches as much as it is ‘high goal’ level. Each tournament is open to the public, with some tournaments gaining more popularity than others. What can be assured however is that each event is an expression of both the player’s and spectators’ passion for the sport. The energy is contagious and the evolution of the game, is one to behold.
Polo is typically played with two teams. Each team consists of four players numbered 1-4, and each player has a different role within the team. In Polo, the most important rule to remember is the line of the ball. If a player hits the ball he is creating a line of the ball, this imaginary line can’t be crossed. After a goal is scored teams change ends and attack in the opposite direction. This rule was brought in a long time ago due to the low sun in India being a disadvantage to one team, and now it’s part of the tradition. A regular match in the UK is split into four sections called chukkas, each chukka lasting seven and a half minutes. In higher levels of Polo, they play six, or even eight chukkas per game.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SPORT AND HOW IT IS PLAYED: