Most Americans know very little about polo. They may remember the divot stomp scene in Pretty Woman, but otherwise the game is remote to the general public. In fact, it is often seen as a haven for elitist snobs.
In fact, the opposite is often true. Polo is a highly affordable spectator sport where enthusiastic cheering and tailgating are encouraged. It’s finally being discovered by mainstream America.
Every sport has its own traditions. Consider baseball, with its seventh-inning stretch and the occasional scrums for fly balls in the stand. Polo is in many ways the same. Learn the basics of dress and speech before you head out to your first match. In no time at all, you will find yourself fitting in with the rest of the crowd.
Choosing Your Clothes
Polo crowds don’t dress to impress, although that’s often the assumption. Comfort and classic are watchwords when it comes to polo style. If you wear a hat, it shouldn’t be a fascinator or a Kentucky Derby-style conversation piece. A timeless design for sun protection is fine.
Select your footwear carefully. It should be comfortable so that you can move around and talk to people. You’ll want to participate in the divot stomp. More importantly, you don’t want to wear a stiletto that will sink into the grass. Choose a pragmatic flat, sturdy wedge or espadrille. You’ll look and feel great.
Learn the Rules, and the Lingo
Polo matches feature two teams of four players. The players ride horses, which are known as “ponies.” They swing mallets to hit a solid ball. These mallets can only be swung on the right-hand side. The balls are hard, and sometimes end up in the crowd. It’s important to pay attention to the action so you don’t get hit!
Play is divided into 7-minute sections called “chukkers.” There is a break between chukkers, and a 15-minute halftime. A polo match lasts about 90 minutes. Play starts with a throw-in by an umpire or a special guest. Judges called flaggers are positioned behind each goal, and signal whether or not a valid goal was scored.
Part of the Crowd
It’s perfectly okay to bring kids, lawn chairs, and picnic-type food to a polo match. If you are nervous about how to behave, simply search for your local polo club’s website. The photos and writing will give you an idea of what to expect at the match.