A widely unknown sport; polocrosse is often confused with the very popular sport of polo. Although there are a few similarities, polocrosse has many different rules and utilizes varied skills for both the rider and horse. It was originally created as a winter riding exercise in England in the 1930’s. The sport was then introduced to Australia, where it was fine-tuned and a rule book was created.
The sport is now played in many countries all over the world, but has gained little recognition here in the USA. Anyone can play on any kind of horse, however the top levels generally have much more than your average backyard horse playing. The play is high speed with quick-thinking and strategy that may not be visible to the untrained eye. Both horses and riders have catlike reflexes and pull off moves you won’t see in any other equine discipline. There are more quick stops and spins than in polo, where they tend to make wide arcs and long runs.
Here are a few key aspects of the sport to help you understand the melee going on in front of you:
Games are made up of a series of chukkas – generally 6 or 8 minutes long – and consist or 4 or 6 chukkas total. Each team has two sections of 3 players, whose scores are combined throughout the game. Each section rotates chukkas with the other, so that both play for half of the game. At most tournaments, teams play 2 games per day over the course of the weekend, for a total of four games. There are also two mounted umpires on the field, which is 160 x 60 yards.
King of the One Horse Sports
Unlike polo, players are only permitted to use one horse throughout an entire tournament. Players pride themselves on preparing their horse for the action-packed tournament weekends. They must be fit, healthy, and sound. A new horse may only be substituted in if the original horse is deemed too sick or injured to continue playing. Top horses receive spa treatment from their owners with ice boots, poultice wraps, and the like to keep them feeling their best. Some players are fortunate enough to have a backup mount, which may also double as an umpire horse during the tournament.
Some of the most common breeds for this sport are Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and the “horse for every need” – Australian Stock Horses. Top playing ponies are fast and agile, and have the endurance to last 4 full games. Performance on the field trumps beauty or breeding any day, and the best of them all are the ones with the most heart. Ask about their stories and you will find both players and ponies from all walks of life.
First Time on the Field
Most Polocrosse clubs hold frequent local practices and are always accepting new members. Since our sport is small, we want to spread the word about the addiction we call polocrosse as much as possible. Once you try it, you are sure to catch the bug. It is much more adrenaline-inducing and social than most show rounds or trail rides.
New players can go as fast or as slow as they please. There is no need to buy a special horse, provided theirs does not kick or bite during play. New equipment is minimal – the requirements are a bridle with a bit without protruding shanks, any saddle without a horn, a breastplate, and polo wraps or SMB’s and bell boots on all four feet.
Let’s go to a Tournament!
Out of all the equine disciplines, I believe that this is where you get the most bang for your buck. One tournament entry, that is often less than $100, provides you with an entire action packed weekend, including camping, social events, and at least one meal. Players typically arrive on Friday and play starts early on Saturday and continues all day long. Saturday night dinner is often provided, and then play continues on Sunday. Prizes include useful items, like buckets, bridles, and blankets instead of a cheap ribbon.
We camp out in trailers or tents the whole weekend while our ponies are stabled in portable electric pens. No need to go find fancy hotels or keep your pony cooped up in a stall for days. We all hang out together after hours and have a blast! Water checks before bed and hosing off poultice before the morning games are part of the competition for us, and we enjoy every minute of it!
From off the field, this sport can look a little scary at times. However, we have many rules regarding safety that are taken very seriously. The last thing any player wants to do is injure their horse, so the fast, full-contact play must be done properly. Crossing too closely in front or behind another player or bumping too aggressively is severely penalized, even as much as a free goal. Each player is given a rating to help decide their division, with ratings based upon their knowledge of the game and spatial awareness on the field as much as their horsemanship and racket skills.
The Best Parts of Polocrosse, in my opinion.
You can ALWAYS have fun. At any level the sport is an adrenaline rush like no other.
It’s all about teamwork. One player can’t do it all on their own. Players must have a high level of communication to block the opposition, make passes, and control the ball all the way down the field.
Everyone is family. Our sport is all-inclusive and everyone is there to have a great time. The players on the other team may be your teammates the following weekend. Despite intense competition, we are all friends off the field.
There is always more to learn. Players are constantly striving to improve their racket skills and teach their horses new moves, as well as share their knowledge with other players.
Responsibility and accountability are a must. This is not the place where a lack of horsemanship can go unnoticed or riders can slide by without taking proper care of their mount. The horse’s welfare is top priority during tournament weekends.