The Lure of Polo Through the Years

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The Lure of Polo Through the Years

Dangerous, thrilling, addictive—however you choose to describe the modern game of polo, you can be sure that someone used those same words thousands of years ago for the same purpose. Polo, as it is played today, is merely a refinement of games played as early as the sixth century B.C. It has been said, in many languages and in many time periods, “He who plays polo once will sacrifice his money and body to play again.” Polo has survived for over two thousand years; its addiction must be as powerful as players claim.

The “sport of kings” is one of the oldest sports still in existence today. In fact, versions of the game were played so long ago that a definite origin of the game cannot be determined. Due to the expense of owning and training the best horses, it was primarily nobles who played the game. Because of this, polo was spread as nations conquered others, and it disappeared in areas as noble classes died. Thus, the game was often born and reborn in so many versions that the term polo (translated from several ancient and modern languages) grew to encompass a wide variety of games involving a stick, ball and players on horseback.

Many historians will trace polo’s roots back to Persia (modern day Iran), where the game developed from its most raw and dangerous form. The Persians, who were among the first to domesticate horses and use them in warfare, began playing games on horseback in order to refine their equestrian skills. The game of choice involved any number of players on horseback all attempting to hit a round object with mallets past the other team’s final players. Sometimes hundreds of players were on each team, and the object they were fighting over ranged from balls, to goats, to decapitated human heads. With so many players and no regulation, polo quickly became a sport in which collisions, ill-trained horses, and human error could easily cause injury and even death.

Despite the obvious dangers one encounters while playing polo, it was a popular activity for armies and nobles. For cavalry, polo provided a venue for displaying one’s athleticism, poise, quick thinking, and boldness. In fact, kings from many nations used polo as an easy way to determine appointments for political and army positions. Often, the best polo players were the only ones who could surpass their natural born social class.

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