T. F. (Thomas Francis) Dale.

Polo past and present online

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As to the first objection, I should reply that it is
more specious than exact : all play at polo or any
other game is based, not on any combination, but
ultimately and in the last resort, on the skill of
individuals. The splendid combination of Rugby
could not win a champion cup in 1904 with Mr. G.
A. Miller out of the team. Where would the Old
Cantabs be with Mr. Buckmaster away ^ What
happens when it is not Mr. Freake or Mr. Raw-
linson's day, to the teams they play in ? What did
not Roehampton owe to Captain Herbert Wilson's
rapidly improving form ? These are but a few
instances, but they are enough. Combination may
be important at polo, but this, like every game, is


based on individual skill, and that must be the basis
of any handicap.

Then I find that the American players do not, as
a matter of fact, make much larger scores than ours.
Taking our provincial tournaments I note that
the Rugby (1904) series averaged eight goals per
match, and the average difference between the teams
was three goals. At Leamington ( 1 904) the averages
were about the same. Cirencester (same year)
averaged eight goals with an average difference of
Rvc between winners and losers. Taking seventy-two
American games I find that the average difference
was only four goals, so that there is in fact no such
very great difference in the scoring in the two

A handicap, then, is shown to be desirable and

practicable, and I summarise the suggestions here : —

(a) That every player^ should have a handicap

number assigned to him.
(^) The highest number to be ten, the lowest

(c) That in every handicap tournament the
handicappers should be instructed to con-
sider — (i) Whether a team is accustomed
to play as a team ; (2) How far the
players are suited to each other, and are
arranged in their proper places ; (3)
Whether one team is very much better
mounted than the others. The handicap

1 That is, every player who was qualified in the opinion of the handicapper.
To be handicapped at all would be a kind of graduation at polo.


of the teams to be modified in accordance
with those considerations, if the handicappers
think it desirable to do so. Such modi-
fications to apply to that tournament
{d) The official handicap to be published on
March 15th in each year, and to be in
force for the following season.
(^) Clubs offering prizes for handicap tourna-
ments based on the official handicap, to
publish in the public press the handicap
of the teams entered, at least one week
before the date of play.
(/) All clubs or groups of clubs desiring to
have a club handicap to forward the same
for the approval of the Hurlingham Handi-
cap Committee.
It has occurred to me that the County Polo
Association and the Army Committee might have
separate handicaps for tournaments played under
their auspices.

I have written down these suggestions in a definite
form, not as arrogating for them any authority, but
because without definition and clearness no sug-
gestions of the kind can be of any real value. They
are only designed to incite others to consider and
examine a subject which is of considerable importance
to the future of polo.



In these colonies polo has made steady progress and
will in time probably be played all over the Common-
wealth. There is a Polo Association of New South
Wales to which twenty-five clubs are affiliated, and
these are nearly all in full activity, having well-
supported games, and often attracting considerable
bodies of spectators. The rules of the Association
will be found in the Appendix, and the rules of play
are based on the Jiurlingham rules as they were
before the last revision, and are found to work well.
The Association is throughly representative in char-
acter. It is governed by a Council formed by one
representative from each affiliated club. This Council
remains in office until the clubs send other represen-
tatives. Every club is free to change its represen-
tative whenever it pleases. When a new club
desires affiliation, it has to be proposed and seconded
by two of the delegates of the associated clubs and



balloted for. One black ball in three excludes. Clubs
breaking the rules may be expelled from the Associa-
tion by a resolution of the Council. On the ist of
November in each year an annual general meeting is
held, at which the officers of the Association are
elected. No one delegate may represent more than
one club, but as, on account of the long distances, it
is not always possible for all the representatives to
attend, any one of them may appoint (in writing)
another representative to attend and vote for him.
But the most important regulation is rule 15, which
constitutes the Council of the Association the govern-
ing body, with powers of regulating matches and
arranging tournaments, as well as of disciplinary
control over all polo races and sports. No man can
play in a tournament under the rules of the Associa-
tion unless he is a member of an affiliated club.
The Council has power to disqualify or suspend
clubs or individual players.

No doubt this is an excellent constitution, for
each club sends its own representative and the polo
players are governed by themselves. Moreover, the
existence of an association enables a governing
body, with so strong a public opinion at its back, to
exercise a most wholesome control over tournaments,
race meetings, and competitions. We have indeed
nothing exactly equivalent to this Council in England,
but some day or other something of the kind must
come into existence. Polo tournaments and the
race meetings held in connection with the clubs will
expand beyond the power of our present governing


body to control, or else the development of the
game will be checked by the governing body growing
out of sympathy with some large body of players.
There is another regulation which seems to be of
considerable importance. Any member of an affili-
ated club may attend the meetings of the Council
and speak, though only the elected members can
vote. This seems an excellent plan for ensuring
that grievances, if they exist, shall reach the ears of
the Council. In fact it is a characteristic note of
this Association code that every effort is made to
keep in touch with the widely scattered clubs of the

The first rule deals with the height of ponies,
which is in Australia fixed at 14.1. There has,
however, been some talk of raising the height to 14.2.
All the ponies used are bred in the country, but
there is at present no attempt, as \n England, to breed
a polo pony. The polo ponies used have, however,
generally a share of pony blood in them. The best
ponies have a great deal of thoroughbred quality,
and on the whole tkis cross is preferred to the Arab,
though a minority of players think that polo ponies
are all the better for a dash of Arab in them. The
introduction of polo into Australia has caused a
great rise in the price of ponies. Before the days
of polo, animals of this class found a very uncertain
market, at prices varying from ;£io to £i^y and were
in some districts unsaleable altogether. The intro-
duction of polo at once raised the price of the polo
pony stamp to ^^20 or £2^, Now if a pony of


about the height required has pace, good looks, and
handiness, he is worth anything from j[^^o up to
;^ioo. The Indian market takes a good number of
ponies from New South Wales, and there is a great
demand for animals of this class for Rangoon.

The system of measurement differs from ours
in that it would be impossible to have an official
measurer, in a country where the distances are great
and the means of communication not so well
developed as in England. The following is the
New South Wales measuring rule :

61. Prior to every inter-club match or polo pony race or
sports, the ponies shall be passed under the standard by the
Captains of the respective sides, or the Committee of the
sports meeting, and any pony not passing the standard shall
be barred. The standard shall be 14 hands i inch, but
half-an-inch extra may be allowed for shoes.

According to the wording of the rule there
appears to be no system of certificates of measure-
ment or of registration. A pony may be measured
at each tournament he goes to, but I should imagine
that this rule would not be enforced. The reason
of it is, that no doubt in up-country games, as in the
old days of station games in India, the height rule
was not very strictly enforced. The desire of every
one was to make up a game, and if players were
scarce we did not look too hard at the ponies of a
willing recruit, even if they appeared to be a little
over the standard fixed by the rules. Inter-club
tournaments were a diflFerent matter, and ponies had



then to pass a measuring test, and I imagine that
a similar state of things in Australia brings about
similar results. Ponies suitable to the game are not
easy to find in Australia, but no doubt as polo de-
velops we shall see that ponies will be bred. I believe
that some English ponies registered in the Stud Book
have already been exported to the Antipodes, and we
may perhaps find that our Australian brothers will
send over polo ponies bred from our own stock,
which, like their racehorses on our turf, will be able
to hold their own and more, with English ponies
on the polo ground. As the Indian market for
Australian, or, as they are called, " Waler " ponies is
likely to increase, it might be worth while for
Australian breeders to take up pony breeding, and to
import not only registered Stud Book polo ponies,
but some of the foundation stock from which so
many of our best ponies are derived. Something
like 30 per cent of our polo ponies have Welsh blood,
and nearly all the rest have Dartmoor and Exmoor,
with the exception of the few thoroughbred or half-
bred dwarfs which have reverted to the size of some
unknown pony ancestor. Irish ponies too, as has
been shown in another part of the book, have much
real pony blood in them.

The usual size of the ground in Australia is 300
yards by 200, and boards are apparently not in use,
at all events they are not mentioned in the code of
rules I have. The balls are somewhat smaller than
ours, being 3 inches, as compared with 3 J in England.
Sticks are under the control of the umpire, and he


has the power of refusing to allow any stick to be
used which he considers to be dangerous. The
periods are those formerly in use at Hurlingham,
three twenty-minutes with ten-minute intervals, and
ponies are allowed to be changed every ten minutes.
When we come to the question of riding off, we
find that the bumping not uncommon in this country
is forbidden by the introduction of a definition of
riding off similar to that in the Indian and New
Zealand rules. " A player shall be considered to ride
off fairly when, having placed himself abreast of an
adversary after following a line of direction as nearly
as possible parallel to that in which his adversary is
moving, he gradually forces him from, or prevents
his continuing in the direction in which he is riding."
The penalties, too, are those which we formerly
had in this country, and the offside rule and that
about crooking sticks are the same as in our last
unrevised code.

It is a disadvantage to polo in Australia that [the
distances are so great that it is no easy matter to
hold tournaments. Naturally the isolation of clubs
interferes with the development of the game. The
large number of polo tournaments played in England
may be considered to be one of the reasons for the
very great improvement in the average skill of
players that has taken place of late years, and I
think that nowhere, not even in India, are such
good ordinary games to be seen as on an English
ground on an off-day. In Australia tournaments
are very much appreciated where they can be held,


and are well attended; although I gather that polo
as a spectacle has not yet attained the popularity
which it enjoys in such places as Dublin or Hull,
to say nothing of the assemblies for the leading
tournaments at London clubs. Polo is played all
the year round at Sydney, but at Melbourne in the
summer only, for there they have hunting in the winter.
In the country districts of New South Wales, however,
the summer months are too hot for polo, and the
season for the game is in the winter.

That their game is based on thoroughly sound
principles may be seen from the hints to players
which I extract from the New South Wales book
of rules. They are equally useful to all who play
polo, and may be studied with profit by English
and Indian players. They were written for the
Association by Captain Douglas Haig, now Major-
General and Inspector of Cavalry in India.

(a) Back defends his goal. He should, as a rule, always
backhand the ball, very seldom meet it, or hit a forward
stroke. If the ball is within about 80 yards or less of his own
goal he should hit it towards the side line (not across the
front of his own goal, as a rule). On the other hand, if the
ball is nearer the adversary's goal, he should hit the ball direct
towards the enemy's goal. If this principle be followed, the
" forwards " will then know towards which hand they ought
to turn about, when they see a back-hander about to be hit.

(b) No. 3 joins with the Back in defending his goal, but
must be ready to act on the offensive, both by meeting the
ball when an opportunity arises, and then driving it down
towards the enemy's goal, and also by backing up No. 2 and


taking on the ball, should the latter be ridden over the ball,
or lose possession of it. In the event of No. 3 going forward
No. 2 will take his place and back him up. No. 3 must
never allow more than one adversary to hustle the Back.

{c) No. 2 joins with No. i in attacking the enemy's
goal. In order to be successful in this, they will at times
be forced to change places ; for instance, if, in the course of
the game. No. 2 gets very far forward, he ought to remain
where he is and play " i " until an opportunity of regaining
his proper place occurs. No. 2 must also, as already stated,
be prepared to replace No. 3 should he go forward.

[d) No. I's chief duty is to ride so as to prevent the
enemy's Back from backhanding the ball, and he must try
and carry him away from the direct line between the player
of his own side who is in possession of the ball and the
enemy's goal.

{e) The moment a player sees that a backhander is about
to be hit (and it seems improbable that one of the adversaries
can intervene and meet the ball) he must turn round and
move in the required direction so as to carry on the ball. I
mean a player must turn as the ball is being struck, or indeed,
before it is struck, instead of waiting for the ball to be struck,
and then turn.

In Victoria there is a system of handicapping
which differs from that in use in America and from
our usual method, though something like it was tried
at Catterick Bridge in 1904.

The Australian plan is to take the best team and
put it at scratch. The other teams then receive each
a number of goals proportioned to their supposed
strength. It is obvious that very much depends on


the handicapper's judgment, but I am told that the
plan works well, and encourages the weaker teams
to enter for tournaments, giving them a chance of

There is an invention used in Australia which we
might find useful here. This is an instrument used
by the umpires for picking up the balls. It saves
them from having to dismount in order to do this,
and seems a very useful and practical idea.

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The game of polo is regulated in America by an
Association founded in 1890, with headquarters in
New York. The President of the Association is
Mr. H. L. Herbert of New York, and Mr. W. A.
Hazard is Honorary Secretary and Treasurer.
There is no American polo player better known in
London than Mr. Hazard. He takes a great
interest in international polo, and is one of those
many people on both sides of the Atlantic who are
anxious to bring American and English rules into
accordance as far as possible. Mr. Hazard gave
the cups which were played for in 1902 at Hur-
lingham and Ranelagh, in order to test the merits



of the game as played without offside, and he is also
the giver of a cup which is played for at Roehampton.
To the American Polo Association about thirty
clubs are affiliated, each club paying an annual sub-
scription of $75. The constitution is as follows : —


I. The Polo Association shall consist of an association of
^ polo clubs, each to be represented by one delegate, who
shall out of their number elect at the annual meeting a
committee of nine, including the chairman, for the term
of one year, from the following localities : four from New
York and vicinity, two from Philadelphia and vicinity, two
from New England, and one from the West.

Thus the governing body is a committee of nine —
it was formerly five. This committee has large
powers. It can alter old rules or make new ones
without reference to the general meeting. The
committee's term of office is only for one year,
but there is nothing to prevent the re-election of

The affiliated clubs are free to send in any names
they please as delegates, but the committee exercise
a check, as every delegate nominated by an affiliated
club must be balloted for by the central committee.
Thus, though the committee has no power to co-opt
members, it has ample powers of rejection. They
have also the power to expel undesirable delegates.
The delegates meet once a year, and the committee
every month, or oftener if required. This is an
excellent constitution. A strong executive com-


mittee, representative of the whole body of polo
players, and elected annually, meets often enough
to deal without delay with any matter that requires
it. The constitution, it will be seen, is very similar
to that of the Indian Polo Association, except that
in India changes have to be referred to the annual
general meeting.

The American Polo Association has been suc-
cessful in guiding the game through a period of
rapid growth, so that we see that there has been
great progress in their skill in play in the sixteen
years that have elapsed since the first international
match. Then America was defeated by an English
team with comparative ease, although the representa-
tives of the former were playing on their own
ground and under their own rules. In 1902 it
was with much difficulty that England defeated the
American players, although the latter were playing
on strange grounds and with offside and stick-crook-
ing rules to which only Mr. Foxhall Keene was
accustomed. Even with these disadvantages the
English team had to be altered several times, and
after several defeats, before victory was assured. I
watched all the games, and on some points the
American players were better than the English.
But they had not quite the combination of a first-
class English team, and their ponies were not so
good. Even allowing for the voyage and the change
of water and forage, I think that the English ponies
are better than the American. On the other hand,
the international matches showed us that there was


very little to choose between first-class polo in the
two countries.

The best test, however, of the work of a polo
committee is its code of rules, and these I put before
my readers with such comments and explanations as
may seem desirable.

1. The ground should be about 900 feet long by 450
feet wide, with a ten-inch guard from end to end on the
sides only.

The length of the American ground is that which
has prevailed always and everywhere, with but few
exceptions, to the present time. Three hundred
yards has for two thousand years been considered
the best length for a polo ground. The width has
varied, but in America is fixed at 150 yards, the
width which many practical polo men prefer. These
dimensions are, however, not compulsory, and as a
matter of fact polo grounds in America vary a good


2. The goal-postg. shall be 24 feet apart, at least 10 feet
high, and light enough to break if collided with.

Balls and Mallets

3. The ball shall be of wood, with no other covering
than white paint, 3J inches in diameter, and not exceeding
5 oz. in weight.

Mallets shall be such as approved by the Committee.

There is no diff^erence between these rules and
those of the English and Indian codes, except in the


last clause. We leave the choice of sticks entirely
to the individual player. This clause suggests that
it might not be a bad plan if all polo associations
agreed on a standard length of stick, with the head
affixed at a certain angle. But I imagine that no
such standard exists in America, and that the inten-
tion is to check the possible introduction of any
polo stick varying greatly from the ordinary mallet
in length, pliability, or weight.

4. The height of ponies shall not exceed 14.2. Ponies
aged five (5) years and upwards may be measured and
registered for life ; ponies under five (5) years may be
registered for the current season only. Any member of
the Committee may measure ponies not his own, and
issue certificates of registry. He shall determine the age
of the pony. The Committee may by vote appoint one
or more official measurers, who shall have all the powers
hereby given the Committee in respect to the measurement
of ponies and the issue of certificates.

This rule is not carried out. Practically any
pony can play in America ; they are never measured.
Few ponies over size are played, and objections
have not been raised, so that though the rule
exists it is not in active operation. The American
pony owners are exactly in the position of players at
Hurlingham in 1894 : there was a rule but it was
not enforced. The Polo and Riding Pony Society
has had considerable influence on the English rule.
That body represented pony breeders, and until there


was a registered standard height many people were shy
of taking up polo pony breeding. We may say that
the chief benefit of the 14.2 rule in English polo has
been the stimulus it has given to pony-breeding, and
the consequent improvement in the average quality
of ponies. Whether a similar rule and registration
would be equally advantageous in America in this
respect I could not say. In England the actual
number of rejections under the rule was very small,
numbering only 30 ponies out of 3000 measured by
the late Sir Henry Simpson, nor has the present
measurer, Mr. Sheather, greatly exceeded, if he has
equalled, this percentage of rejections.


5. A. In match games between pairs there shall be two
periods of fifteen (15) minutes each actual play.

B. In match games between teams of three (3) there
shall be three (3) periods of fifteen (15) minutes each actual

Under A and B, two (2) minutes shall be allowed after
each goal, and intervals of five (5) minutes between periods,
unless otherwise agreed.

C. In match games between teams of four (4), there
shall be four (4) periods of fifteen (15) minutes each actual
play. Two (2) minutes shall be allowed after each goal, and
intervals of seven (7) minutes between periods, unless other-
wise agreed.

Under A, B, and C, time between goals and delays shall
not be counted as actual play.

Games between a number of players less than four
are seldom or never played.


The periods of play are, it will be seen, much
longer than in England, and three times as long as
in India.

I am strongly in favour of short periods ; it
makes for brilliancy of play in a fast game, and
saves the ponies much, so that I think a reduction
of the time of play to fivQ minutes would be followed

Online LibraryT. F. (Thomas Francis) DalePolo past and present → online text (page 19 of 33)