“The Sport of Kings” – A Polo Primer

Prince Harry playing polo.
Prince Harry at home in the saddle.

If you’re an American your first thought when hearing “polo” might be clothes worn by preppies. (If it makes you feel better Google thinks this too.) But if you’re a royal watcher, you immediately think divots, white pants, ponies with braided tails, and Princes. I’m with you there.

Polo isn’t called the sport of kings for nothing. Royals, who are practically on horseback before they’re out of their nappies, like to play this sport the way the rest of us like to sit on the couch and watch other people play sports. It suits their lifestyle well. A player needs multiple horses ($), a huge field out in some place away from plebeian facilities such as public bus lines and KFCs ($$), beautiful celebrity spectators who have no problem ruining a pair of Louboutins stamping the divots ($$$) and champagne and carriages to wrap it all up ($$$$). You’re never going to stumble across a pick-up polo game in the ‘hood. Pity.

The Wales’ certainly aren’t immune to this affinity. The boys have followed in their father’s footsteps (hoofprints?) by being avid players. This year has seen June, traditionally the domain of blushing brides, become a cornucopia of charity horsey rides. By the end of the month, Harry and Wills will have played in three matches between them. (In one, on opposing teams! Team Harry unite!) So with all that equestrian activity in the air, here’s some quick facts for the uneducated among us:

  • The game dates back to approximately 500 B.C. when it was first played by the Persians and possibly Chinese.
  • The name originates from the Tibetan word, “pulu” meaning ball.
  • In the 19th century the game was taken up by Westerners when British army officers in the colonial city of Manipur, India founded the world’s very first polo club.
  • The oldest club in the UK is Cirencester Park, where Harry recently played a charity match.
  • The game consists of 4-6 periods, called “chukkas” of 7 and a half minutes each.
  • The number on a player’s uniform represents their position.
Prince Harry riding a polo pony with a number 1 jersey.
Courtesy of @royalreview and good genes.

Although he didn’t participate in this year’s tournament, Harry made quite an impression on New Yorkers two years in a row with his appearance in Veuve Clicquot’s match. During this match, in 2010, match he famously took a spill off his horse (video). (Don’t worry, he’s fine.) Could that be why he stayed away from NYC this year? Nah, plenty of polo closer to home.




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