By Claudia J. Howell
Polo “ponies” range in size from 14h2″ to 15h2″, although there are taller horses being used. It just depends on how far you want to reach and how long a mallet you can handle. But Warm Bloods are just too big.
For a novice player it’s best to start with an older horse that already knows the game. An experienced horse is a good instructor. My first horse was 18 when I started polo. She taught me a lot about the game and carried me to the ball every time. When play changed direction, so did she. When the ball went over the sidelines she stopped. No need to expend unneeded energy. I played her until she was 27.
Older horses also cost less than young ones. They may not be as fast but then, at the beginning, neither are you. As a beginner you’re more likely to hit the ball and get to the play if you’re not traveling 30 miles an hour.
At my clinics when people use their own horses, there are very few that absolutely won’t accept the mallet swinging and the close contact with other horses. That said, it’s a lot easier to learn polo on a horse that knows the game than teaching your horse at the same time as you are learning. One solution is to take lessons on a polo horse and then practice on your horse at home.
If you want to use your own horse, the breed doesn’t really matter. Most polo ponies are Thoroughbred or Argentine polo horses. But that’s not to say that other breeds don’t play as well. One man I know started playing on a Tennessee Walker! (He now has Thoroughbred or Argentine polo horses that he leases to club and players throughout the Pacific Northwest and California.
Most polo horses seem to like the game. Some like the running. Some are really good at riding off or holding their ground to keep from being ridden off. You want a horse with quick reflexes that can stop, turn and change direction easily. Horses that have participated in drill teams have some of the skills necessary such as riding in a clump and moving laterally easily. Polo horses also need to be quiet enough to stand tied to a trailer for an afternoon, waiting to play and then waiting to go home while players socialize.