Although the name “polo pony” has become a misnomer over the years, the original American polo mount was limited to 14.2 hands in height by rules and was developed from the tough cutting horses of the western cowboy. Now, selected from some of the top Thoroughbreds in the country, the polo mount displays the very finest qualities of the Thoroughbred.
Most players agree that the polo “pony” represents 70%-80% of a player’s game. Not restricted by breeding, the mounts are usually at least three-quarters Thoroughbred or better. The characteristics of the Thoroughbred, which make it so ideal for the game, are that it has more stamina, goes farther, faster, and has a better disposition for polo.
Because the physical demands of the game, the horses may gallop as much as three miles in each chukker, -the polo player needs a string of mounts. No horse plays two successive chukkers, and each player may ride 3-6 ponies in the course of a six-chukker match (in high-goal polo the players arrive at the field with no less than six horses apiece).
No longer limited in height, today’s average polo pony is from 15 hands (a hand is four inches, measured from the withers) to as much as 16 hands, and will weigh between a thousand and eleven hundred pounds. The average age of the ponies is about nine years, but their playing life may last well into their teens, depending on the level of polo that is played and the health of the horse.
Carefully trained for at least one year before playing polo, the ponies develop keenness and skill. Top ponies show great cleverness in anticipating the run of the ball and in placing themselves at the best distance from it for the rider to make his stroke. Without the polo pony, polo would be just another stick and ball game.