POLO: PAST AND PRESENT
The " CouNTRT Life
Library of Sport
PAST AND PRESENT
T. F. DALE
" DESIPFRE. IN LOOO '^ ■ ,
LONDON : PUBLISHED AT THE OFFICES
OF "COUNTRY LIFE," Ltd. TAVISTOCK
STREET, COVENT GARDEN, W.C. ^ BY
GEORGE NEWNES, Ltd. SOUTHAMPTON
STREET, STRAND, W.C. NEW YORK:
CHARLES SCRIBNERS' SONS MCMV
The present work is the result of several years'
preparation, and of generous co-operation on the part
of many men interested in the game. For its form
and the opinions expressed, I am, of course, entirely
responsible. Polo : Past and Present covers very
much ground not occupied by existing books on the
game, and is written from a somewhat different point
of view. In the chapter on ancient polo, I have
gone back to the authorities so far as they were
known to me, and have made an endeavour to
recover from the past the rules and methods of the
game. The commentaries on the rules of polo of
England, America, India, and New South Wales
will, it is hoped, show that these rules are based on
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vi POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
common principles, and in what way they vary to
meet the necessities of the game in different countries.
It is possible that these commentaries may be a
contribution to the formation of a common code of
rules for English-speaking polo players. This part
of the book will be useful if it leads to a careful
study of the rules of the game.
In writing of the science and tactics of play, I
have had the advantage, first, of a long training in
India, the best of all schools for polo ; secondly, I
have within my own experience seen the develop-
ment of polo from small beginnings to a highly
organised and scientific game ; and, lastly, I have,
for ten years past, watched all the best players
from a point of view which compelled considerable
attention, and yet placed me in a position of detach-
ment from occasional jealousies and intrigues, which
even the politics of sport are not free from. But,
of course, there is the danger that one may become
a little fanciful, or drop behind the times. I am
therefore greatly indebted to Captain L. C. D.
Jenner, joint Polo Manager of the Ranelagh Club,
who read over all the practical and technical chapters
with the exception of the one on Handicapping, for
which I only am responsible. The corrections and
suggestions offered by him have been, in almost
every case, incorporated into the text, and are, I
heartily acknowledge, a most important addition to
the usefulness of the book.
In the next place, I was helped gready by Mr.
W. A. Hazard, the Hon. Secretary of the American
Polo Association, who looked over and corrected the
chapter on the American rules and brought it up to
date for me. Then Mr. Dodds of Sydney gave me
much valuable information as to New South Wales
polo and ponies, of which, it is needless to say, I have
made use. I am also indebted to Major Lecky, R.H. A.,
the Hon. Secretary of the Indian Polo Association,
for a copy of the latest rules, and permission to use
some of the admirable diagrams to be found therein.
I am further indebted for assistance and information
to Mr. Stuart Duckett, of the Irish County Polo
Union ; to Mr. A. M. Tree, of the Warwickshire
Club ; and to Captain E. D. Miller for an advance
copy of the Roehampton Club report for 1905.
Sir Richard Green Price has read the chapter on
Pony Breeding and made some valuable additions
and corrections which I was glad to adopt, for there
is no more thorough student of horse breeding
and of pedigrees than he, and I owe much to his
knowledge and experience, always freely imparted to
Since this book was in the press one of the
suggestions which will be found in its pages has
taken a practical form. Major Fasken has laid before
the Indian Polo Association a proposal, the effect of
which would be to bring us a step nearer to the early
age of polo, when, as I have shown in the text, there
was probably, before the tenth century, an international
code of rules. The two chief obstables to such a
code at the present time are the length of the periods
of play, and offside. Captain Miller is quite clear
viii POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
that we do not want shorter periods, but I cannot
help thinking that he is a little led away by constant
familiarity with ponies of the highest class. It is the
opinion of many players, both in this country and
America, that ten minutes is too long a period, and
adds to the expense of the game by diminishing the
number of ponies that are available. For it must be
remembered that few polo periods are ten minutes
only, and the better the players and the faster the
game the less likely is the bail to go out on a boarded
ground, so that the ponies are often kept at full
stretch for twelve minutes or more. This tells
heavily against the lighter ponies. If one may judge
by what one sees on many polo grounds, few ponies
can really stay, not so much for ten-minute periods
— though I think that too long — as for the length
of time often entailed by the retention of nominally
ten-minute periods, in which play often lasts twelve
or more minutes.
Possibly Colonel De Lisle's suggestion of a seven-
minute period will be found to be the solution of the
difficulty. In any case the existence of an inter-
national code of rules would be a great advantage,
and ought not to prove a task of insuperable diffi-
culty. There must, of course, be concession on both
sides if we are to overcome the real difficulty.
Offside is a rule which American and Canadian
players are by no means willing to accept in its
present form, and the English system of penal-
ties is open to the objection of being unduly
elaborate, puzzling to the umpire, and causing
vexatious interruptions to the game. The book
which follows is an endeavour to open the way by
suggestions for a common international code, since
a study of the commentaries on the rules will show
how slight the differences between English, American,
and Indian rules are, and how far from fundamental
are these differences.
The Appendix I have endeavoured to make as full
and as varied in its information as possible. In
practice, I found that the book on polo which is most
often taken down from the shelves is that which
contains the largest amount of information, and, but
for the question of space, I should like to have made
the Appendix even fuller than it is. I have given
no list of registered ponies, as Messrs. Vinton and
Co. pubHsh a complete one in a handy and con-
I have also to make my acknowledgments to
Mehdi Khan of the Persian Embassy, for a kind
reply to some inquiries I addressed to him as to
Persian records of polo, and to Mr. A. Kayahashi,
of the Japanese Legation, for assistance in the
matter of Japanese polo and for a letter (a part
of which is quoted in the text) with regard to the
present and past popularity of polo in his country.
I was most anxious, but have been unable to trace
the connection, if any, between Byzantine polo and
the Japanese game. There is a certain similarity
in the games, and in both was used a stick with a
racquet-shaped head not unlike a la crosse bat. If
we compare the following sketch of the Japanese
X POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
game with the description of the game as played by-
Manuel Comnenus in the twelfth century, we shall
see that there are many points in common between
Japanese and Byzantine polo.
In the Japanese game the players are twelve,
divided into two sides, Genji and Heike, who are
distinguished by red and white hats. These two
words are those always used in Japanese games for
opposing sides and are said to be the names of two rival
clans of Chinese history. Each player has a " long
bamboo stick, with a spoon-shaped head, having a net-
work of cord." ^ This stick is used to lift the ball over
the goals, which are, like our football goals, two tall
posts with a cross bar or rope about ten feet from the
ground. The opposite goals are marked by red and
white flags. The object of the game is to throw the
balls over the goal. Of these, each side has thirty-
six, and the game goes to the side which has thrown
out, and over the goal line, all the balls belonging to
the adversary. The game naturally becomes more
interesting and exciting as the balls grow fewer.
There is often a desperate struggle over the last one.
It is easy to see that this game must be very exciting
and that both sides would have to attack and defend
in turn. It is a very interesting variant of the game,
and we can understand its popularity among a war-
like people like the Japanese.^ We have sometimes -
been reproached with too great fondness for games in-
England, but, at all events, no vigorous nation has^
^ The Mikado" i Empire. Griffiths. 1902.
2 Sec p. 15 for Byzantine Polo.
ever lacked enthusiasm for warlike sports, and there
is no surer sign of decadence, in individuals or
nations, than indifference to active participation in
sport and games, or a desire to exchange the part of
player for that of spectator. The value of a game
or sport is in direct proportion to the labour and
(within certain limits) to the personal risk involved
by taking part in it. Judged by this standard, polo
deserves a high place among English games, such as -
we see it has already occupied in other nations in
The tabular arrangement ot the clubs will, it is
to be hoped, be found a convenience, and has been
referred to the various secretaries, to whom my best
thanks are here returned for their kindness in filling
up the forms sent out.
The book will, I hope, be found to contain trust-
worthy information as to the past history and present
development of the game, while in the practical part
I have made an attempt to reach the underlying
principles of polo. The game has indeed many
sides. It depends on the training of the ponies,
the practice of the players, the state of the
ground, and the temper and character of the
men who take part in it. It is difficult to see it
as a whole, yet that is what has been attempted
The future of the game is no doubt assured, yet
there are possible hindrances to its progress which
are not more dangerous because they are faced
in time. These will occur to many of my readers.
POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
I know, because some have been pointed out to me
while I have been preparing the book. Yet those
who have watched the growth of polo hitherto, can-
not fail to see its great future possibilities under
wise and prudent guidance.
I. Ancient Polo
2. The Hurlingham Club and its Influence on Polo
3. The Ranelagh Club and the Expansion of Polo
4. The Growth of Polo in London and the Pro-
5. Regimental Polo ....
6. The Training of the Pony .
7. Elementary Polo ....
8. Tournament Polo and Team-Play
9. Umpires and Referees .
10. The Pony and Stable Management
xiv POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
11. Polo Pony Breeding .....
12. The Polo Club: Its Appliances and Expenses
13. Recollections of Twenty Years .
14. Thoughts and Suggestions on Handicapping
15. Polo in Australia
16. Polo in America ....
17. The Rules of Polo in England .
18. Rules of the Indian Polo Association
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
The Polo Ground at Hurlingham .... Frontispiece
Polo in Persia : Siawusch playing before
AfrSsiab ...... To face page i
Stick Crooking in Ancient Polo . . . „ „ 4.
The Ladies' Stand : The two men in fore-
ground are making near-side strokes . „ „ 5
Polo in India before the Emperor Akbar :
Five a-side . . . . . . „ ,,12
Polo in Japan : Japanese and Byzantine form
of stick : Leathern Ball . . . ,, „ 16
Inter-Regimental Polo Tournament at Hur-
lingham ......,,„ 24
The Champion Cup at Hurlingham : a Run
on the Ball ,, ,,25
POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
On the Old Ground
Capt. L. C. D
Hurlingham Club House : Garden Front
Hurlingham Polo Pavilion .
Major Egerton Green: Late 12th Lancers
Manager of the Hurlingham Club .
A Scene at the Inter-Regimental Tournament
Fast Play along the Boards .
A Wet Day on a Bumpy Ground
Across the Ground
Stopping a Run .
Ranelagh Club House .
Ranelagh Polo Pavilion.
Ranelagh Team, 1905
Jenner, A. Rawlinson, F. A
The Polo Grounds at Ranelagh
The New Pavilion at Ranelagh
The Pavilion at Roehampton
Polo Ground at Roehampton
Waiting for the Umpire
"Keeping him off"
A Soldiers' Match at Wimbledon
17th Lancers Team
Attack V. Defence : The Royal Horse Guards
Goal in Danger ....
Inter-Regimental Polo : A close Contest
A Melee in the Middle of the Ground .
A Miss is as good as a Mile .
To face page 32
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Clearing the Ball out of Scrimmage near Goal To face page 109
" Lady Jane's " Toilet „ „ 116
"Lady Grey." A Good " Back " Pony . „ ,,117
"Matchbox." This Pony played in Seven
Open Cups. Bred in Yorkshire. Pedi-
gree unknown „ ,,124
" Bendigo." Bred in Canada. Played Pony in
every Open Tournament from 1898 to
1902 „ „ 125
A Good '* Forward " Pony. The property of
Mr. F. M. Freake . . . . „ ,,128
"Patricia." Of the Thoroughbred Stamp.
The property of Mr. Buckmaster . . ,, ,,129
" Old Dutch." Fine Type of Weight-carrier.
The property of Mr. W. W. Astor . „ „ 132
" Gown Boy." Property of the Radnorshire
Polo and Riding Pony Company, Ltd. . „ » ^33
"Rose Stalk." First Prize, Islington, 1905.
The property of the Hon. Mrs. Ives . „ ,,140
" Rupert." Polo-bred Stallion, bred by Miss
L. Standish. Winner of many Prizes . „ „ 141
" Summer Lightning." A good Playing Pony.
Bred by Mr. John Barker . . , „ ,,144
" Constance." First Prize Polo Pony at Isling-
ton, 1905. The property of Capt. Phipps
Hornby „ ,,145
A Help-Meet .'....„„ 148
The Off-side Forward Stroke under the Pony's
neck „ „ 149
xviii POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
Mr. Rawlinson on the
A Clean Backhander.
Watching the " Back '
" Ridden ofF"
" Turn your Ponies "
Mr. W. S. Buckmaster, Captain of the Old
A Long Shot .....
International Polo. A Goal to England
Trying to ride him off ...
The Umpire bowling in the Ball .
The Umpire watching
" Slavin." An Argentine Pony that has been
played in Champion Cups by Mr. G. A
"Conceit." The property of the Earl of
Shrewsbury and Talbot .
"Gillieflower." Polo Pony Stallion, First
Prize, Ranelagh, 1904. The property of
the Hon. Mrs. Ives ....
"Black Bella." A First-Class Pony, now
retired from active service
" Langosta." A First-Class Argentine .
" Sandiway." This Pony is the Sire of more
Winners than any other of the day
Welsh Mountain Ponies ....
Brood Mares on Polo Pony Farm at Bleddfa .
Two-year old Fillies .....
To face page 156
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Exercise To face page 2\^
"Antre." Polo Pony Stallion. The property
of Mr. John Barker
" Rosemary." Bred by Miss Standish. Now
the property of Sir Patteson Nickalls
" Miss Day." The property of Mr. S. Moor
" Combination." Polo-bred Stallion. Property
of the Earl of Leitrim . .*
" Bully Boy." First Prize Yearling Colt, 1905
By Mark Forward. King's Premium
The Polo Pavilion on Third Ground at Rane
Plan of the Ranelagh Polo Pavilion
The Ground in Good Condition .
Scoring Boards on Nos. 2 and 3 Grounds at
The Captain .....
The Rugby "Back," 1897, 1898, 1899: A
International Polo. The Americans defend
their Goal .....
American Team, 1902 : R. Agassiz, Foxhall
Keene, M. Waterbury, J. Cowdin, L
The Old Cantabs ; the Champion Cup
Winners of 1900 .....
" Early Dawn." The property of Mr. Tresham
» » 232
XX POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
Gilbey. First-Class Tournament Pony, now a Brood
Mare and Winner of Championship, Islington,
Mr. Reginald C. Vanderbilt ....
Mr. H. L. Herbert, President American Polo
The Lakewood Team .....
On an American Ground. Open Play .
An American Polo Team at Home. Mr. Fox-
hall Keene making a Run
Polo in America. Mr. Cowdin making a Run
Mr. William A. Hazard, Hon. Secretary
American Polo Association . . .
Mr. R. La Montaigne
Mr. Buckmaster and Mr; Foxhall Keene. The
Champion Polo Players of Two Continents
In Possession of the Ball . . • .
A Fall. The Game is stopped by the Umpire
Plan of Polo Ground .....
Examples of Crossing and Possession of the
Diagram illustrating Penalties i and 2 .
Diagram illustrating Penalty 3 . . .
From a Throw-In .....
Ranelagh. In Full Play ....
''0 face page
POLO IN PERSIA.
SIAWUSCH PLAYING BEFORE AFRASI2B.
Polo is perhaps the most ancient of games. When
history was still legend we find polo flourishing.
All our best games are derived from it, and cricket,
golf, hockey, and the national Irish game of hurling
are all descendants of polo. The historic order was
reversed when in England polo on its first intro-
duction was called "hockey on horseback," and in
Ireland "hurling on horseback." In reality these
games are polo on foot.
The cradle of polo was Persia, and from that
country the game spread all over the East, taking
2 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
root most firmly in India, and at Constantinople
under the Byzantine Emperors.
It is very difficult to separate legend and history
in the stories of Oriental lands — so much of the
history is legendary, so many of the legends are
historical. But, however we may puzzle over the
succession and even the identity of the kings of the
various dynasties, of one thing we may be absolutely
sure, that from the earliest times to the eighteenth
century there was always polo at the Persian court.
Every Persian king either took part in the game or
looked on while his courtiers played.
I have examined the various authorities in order
to see if it was possible to reconstruct the old Persian
polo from their writings. I felt that this would be
more interesting than the mere record of the references
to the game in the pages of poets and historians. So
I have endeavoured to discover what their methods
of play were, in the old days, what rules they played
under, and in what ways the game varied or developed
during successive periods and in different countries.
Persian polo differed from the game in other
countries by the fact that it was a national sport. In
the poetical histories or historical poems in which
Persian literature is so rich, the heroes are often
celebrated for their skill at polo. Nor are their
victories in war or love described in language more
high flown. This shows the esteem in which the
game was held. The Persians were a nation of
horsemen, and every Persian youth of rank was
taught not merely to ride, but to be at home in the
ANCIENT POLO 3
saddle. It has more than once occurred to me, while
writing this chapter, as strange that polo, which
must have been well known to the peoples that came
in contact with the Persians — the Greeks, the
Romans, and the English, — should never have made
its way into their countries. The reason in all
probability was the inferiority of the horsemanship ^
of the Greeks and Romans, and the lack of suitable
horses. The Persians on the other hand had in
their horses light, active, well-bred animals of Arab
type, and about 14.2 in height.
It seems likely that while the natural gift for, and
acquired skill in horsemanship must have encouraged
polo, this game improved the riding of the Persians
and increased the efficiency of their cavalry. There
is no such school of horsemanship as polo, especially
for acquiring the strong, easy, confident seat that
is desired for modern cavalry, according to the
latest official instructions on their training. We
speak, however, of polo generally, but there have
been no less than five, or, including our modern
game, six varieties of polo during its existence of at
least 2000 years. Some of the variations in the
game are considerable. For example, there was the
Indian form known as r^/, which consisted in
dribbling the ball along the ground, and the interest
of which lay in keeping possession of it by means of
dexterous turns and twists of a long stick ; and the
Byzantine form of the game, which I do not know
^ A distinguished scholar has suggested to me that the want of stirrups was
the more probable reason.
4 POLO : PAST AND PRESENT
better how to describe than by saying that it was a
kind of la crosse on horseback. Of both these I
shall have occasion to write later on.
In ancient polo there are only three constant
things, the horse, the ball, and an instrument to
strike the latter with. Everything else varied, the
number of players, the size of the ground, the height
of the horses, the shape of the stick, and even the
material of which the ball was made. This last has,
at all events since the game made its way to the
borders of Thibet, been known as polo from a
Thibetan word signifying willow root, from which
material our English polo balls are still turned. All
polo balls were made of wood, except that in the
twelfth century the ball used in Byzantine polo was
either made of, or covered with leather.
The horse ridden was, I think, most commonly
the ordinary Arab of about 14.2 ; but some ancient
pictures show that two kinds of ponies were some-
times used — first the larger Arab, and secondly a
small, active, somewhat coarse pony, which was
probably a hill pony. It is of course quite possible
that, like the modern pony breeder, the old Persian
appreciated the value for polo of a cross of true pony
blood. But, however that may be, the pictures are
only evidence of the stamp of ponies used in the
artist's own time.
The polo stick has varied very much, and as in
our day there is no standard for the length of the
stick, the shape of the head, or the angle at which
the latter is fixed to the head, but each player uses
? c •',
THE LADIES' STAND.
THE TWO MEN IN FOREGROUND ARE MAKING NEAR SIDE STROKES.
ANCIENT POLO 5
the kind that suits him best, so in ancient times the
shape and length of the stick varied gready. The
earliest form of which we know anything had a kind
of spoon-shaped head, and this was probably not used,
as one or two writers have suggested, for carrying
the ball, but for those lofty strokes which, as we
see from the account in the Shdh-ndma^ were much
This shape of stick was a survival of a still earlier
form of polo than has come down to us in the old
pictures. I think it seems likely that the earliest
game was simply a trial of skill with the stick and
ball, that there were no limits to the ground nor were
there any goals. The players simply tried to outdo
each other in fancy strokes, such as hitting the ball
into the air, striking or volleying it while flying.
The struggle was for the possession of the ball, and
those were adjudged the victors who showed most
skill and address in the use of the stick and the
management of their horses. The division into
sides, the establishment of rules, and the erection of
goals were later developments. The more orderly
game soon modified the stick, which became first a
hockey stick and then a hammer-headed mallet such
as we have now. I imagine that the two forms of
polo, the orderly game, and the exercise of skill in
horsemanship and in the use of the stick, existed side
by side for some time, and that we have accounts of
both. In the earlier stage of the game a ball or balls
were flung down and an unlimited number of young