T. F. (Thomas Francis) Dale.

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was floored with boards as guarded by them. It
may be hoped that these apt words will find a place
in the technical vocabulary of polo all over the

The above code of rules is accepted everywhere
throughout the United States of America except at
a small group of clubs in California, where polo is
played under Hurlingham rules. This would, to
a certain extent, be disadvantageous to the game in
the West if it were not for their isolated position.

The American polo rules are suited for the style
of game they play — a free, open, galloping game,
giving great scope for dash and horsemanship. It
has been said by one of our leading players that the
game played under American rules at Roehampton


showed a strong attack and a weak defence. It is
of course true that the back has not the advantages
under American rules that he has in England, but
so far as I can see, he has even greater opportunities
for sound defence. The American " backs " are
quicker than our English No. 4 players, and some
of Mr. L. Waterbury's defensive strokes were as
fine as anything I have seen since the palmy
days of the 12th B. C. Although the American
periods of play are longer than ours, yet, inasmuch
as owing to their open game there are more goals
and the ball goes out of play more frequently, ponies
are changed at shorter intervals. It is thought in
America, and with justice, that if the English ten-
minutes rule was adopted, it would tend to favour
the rich more, since "our cheaper ponies can play
for five or six minutes, but few of them for ten." ^
Thus American players are unwilling to place their
ponies and their riders at a disadvantage, and those
of us who look forward to shorter periods as one
great means of cheapening and popularising polo,
will argue that the A. P. A. is right to make no
change. The only alteration which seems to me to
be a possible improvement would be to introduce the
Indian Polo Association rule about riding off. I
have given some reasons for the opinion that too
much bumping and hustling is a disadvantage to
the game, and that rule is the best regulation of
hustling. It has been adopted as a bye-law by the

^ Even in England the ten-minutes rule is a severe tax on all but the best and
most expensive ponies.


New Zealand Polo Association. We have no desire
to lessen the occasions for those contests in skill and
horsemanship that make polo an exciting game, but
it is our object to make polo cheaper and safer than

it is now.

We have seen, then, that the American Polo
Association is a strong body, able to regulate the
game, and to exercise, when called for, the discipline
which is necessary to keep any sport from degenera-
tion. The rules, if not always in accordance with
English ideas, are suited to the conditions of polo
in America. In their handicap they have a great
advantage, and their style of game, if different from
ours, has advantages of its own. Whether the
English style of play with a strong defence and a
weak attack, or the American with a strong attack
and a weak defence, is the better is a point it is
useless to discuss, for time and the experience of
players will decide it some day quite independently
of anything we may say or think.

As to American ponies, they come next to English
and Irish. But they lack one element which makes
the English and Irish ponies the best in the world,
the foundation of the native pony — Welsh, Exmoor,
Dartmoor. The American ponies are dwarf horses
in reality, and it has been proved by experience that,
except in rare instances, the dwarf horse does not
make so good a polo pony as the animal with true
pony blood in its veins. But in one point American
polo players have an advantage. The source
of supply is practically unlimited, and the price





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moderate. Dealers bring from Texas or elsewhere
ponies to New York. Great pains are taken with
their training, and a few are equal to the English
first-class ponies, and nearly all are easier to ride.
A very large number of our well-bred English
ponies want a horseman to play or make them do
their best, whereas American ponies are generally
easy to ride. They want, I think, less schooling, and
are less spoilt by bad handling than ours. Thus,
though at first-class polo English ponies have the
advantage, yet, on the whole, there is no great balance
on either side in this matter. It will always be
possible for international games to take place on
even terms, and this in itself adds immensely to
the interest taken in polo, and gives occasion for
meetings between the sportsmen of both countries,
which we on this side thoroughly enjoy.

Since writing the above I have heard of the
formation of a Canadian Polo Association. This
body has adopted Hurlingham rules, with the sig-
nificant exception of offside. The view taken in
America is that while offside is wanted in small
and cramped grounds, where plenty of space is
available the free open style of play without offside
is preferable.



When polo came to England the game had no
rules. The first regulations were the work of the
Hurlingham Committee of 1 872, and a comparison of
those rules with the existing code will make clear to
the reader how much the rules have developed since
then. In the chapter on the early history of polo at
Hurlingham I have shown how a fuller and in some
respects a stricter code became necessary, and how
penalties have grown in number and severity. The
polo committee of the Hurlingham club has been the
body that has made the rules, although the constitu-
tion of that committee has from time to time been
altered, in order to give it a character more represent-



ative of the large and increasing number of players who
are not members of the club. When nearly all polo
players were members of Hurlingham, the general
committee of that club appointed a sub-committee to
regulate polo. This committee included the names
of men who were among the leading players. Then,
as clubs increased, the committee admitted the right
of other clubs to send representatives to Hurling-
ham, provided always that the men who were chosen
were members of Hurlingham. This was sufficient
at the time. Most county clubs had one or more
members of Hurlingham among them, and, even if
the restriction had not existed, it would have been
convenient to send those men as representatives to
Hurlingham who were likely to be in town for at
least some part of the polo season.

It was not until the year 1903 that the Committee
was greatly enlarged, and a definite representation
was determined on. Anxious no doubt to preserve
the old association of Hurlingham with polo, it was
determined that the members sent from other clubs
should still be members of Hurlingham. In other
respects the various bodies were free to send whom
they pleased. It was left to the clubs and the County
Polo Association to give what instructions they
thought right to their delegates, and, in consequence,
the last-named body has undoubtedly exercised a very
considerable and salutary influence on recent revisions
of the rules.

There has, since the South African War, been a
revival of interest in various questions raised by the


rules, and the latest revision of the code is an attempt
to deal with some of the most important points which
seemed to need alteration, or at least clearer wording.
The general effect of the changes has been to bring
the English rules more in accordance with those of
the Indian Polo Association. The rules as revised
are dealt with in this chapter, and each rule is com-
mented on and explained, so far as is necessary, with
reference to its past history and the state of the game
at the present time. We must remember that it is
by these rules that we have to regulate our play, and
that it is important to understand them thoroughly.


I. The height of ponies shall not exceed 14 hands 2 in.,
and no pony shall be played, either in practice games or
matches, unless it has been registered in accordance with
the Rules of Measurement. (Penalty 9.)

This is the first, and in some respects the most
important rule of all. The original rule No. i laid
down that the height of ponies must not exceed
14 hands. This regulation was never very strictly
observed or enforced, for no attempt was made to
organise the official measurement and registration of
ponies. Every one played on any pony he could
find. It is often said that many of the polo ponies
played before the present rule was passed were 15
hands, and even more. I think there is some exagger-
ation about this statement, and that at no time was
the average much over 14.2. I infer this from the


small number of rejections which have taken place.
The ponies do not look much smaller than they used
to do, and we still hear remarks about the large size
of ponies. Yet if we consider that every pony is
measured under the Hurlingham conditions, and by
men of the highest professional character and experi-
ence, we must feel that there is in reality very little
room for error. Nor do I believe that any great
amount of preparation for measurement in an objec-
tionable sense exists. No doubt owners of ponies try
to have them measured under the circumstances most
favourable to passing under the standard. It is,
moreover, the duty of the official measurer to pass a
pony if he can, and it is in the interest of the game
that he should do so. A pony, it is well known, does
not at all times measure the same height. I remember
one morning in India bringing a pony to be measured
under West of India Turf Club rules. It was a cold
morning and the pony had had a gallop. She was sent
before the committee and measured 13 hands easily,
though never before or since would she pass under
the standard at less than 13.1^. But I have known
instances of even greater variation. Yet, after all,
the matter is not one of very great importance except
to the owner of the pony, the value of which is con-
siderably enhanced by the fact that he possesses a
Hurlingham certificate. That which really makes a
difference to the other players is the actual, not the
measured size, and the weight of the pony, which is
not much affected by small differences in a measure-
ment so purely conventional as that of the height of


a horse at the withers. We adhere to this way
of measuring because no better can be suggested.
Apparent variations in height are no reason for
impugning the soundness of the system, and the
Hurlingham certificate in a vast majority of cases
represents within a fraction the true height of the
pony. It does not in fact matter very much what
the height fixed is, so long as we have a standard to
which all must approximate as nearly as nature will
allow. The 14.2 rule was passed in 1894, not with-
out considerable resistance at the time. It was
believed that any strictly enforced rule would reduce
the already insufficient supply of ponies.

But as I have pointed out in a former work, the
natural height of the horse is about 14.2, and there
are many more animals of that height than there are
of 14 or 15 hands.^

The reason why the rule that ponies should be
14 hands was disregarded was that the supply at
that height was found to be utterly inadequate. To
have enforced the rule would have killed the game.
The passing of the 14.2 rule gave a stimulus to the
pony market, and made possible the operations of the
Polo and Riding Pony Society.

The 14.2 pony was found to exist in hitherto un-
suspected quantities, for about 14.2 was shown to be
the height of most of the existing ponies. The rights
of those who owned ponies above the new standard
were safeguarded by creating a class of " existing "
polo ponies. A certificate was granted, without

^ Riding and Polo Ponies, p. 49.


measurement, to all ponies played in certain matches
before a specified date. This was obvious justice.
Nevertheless murmurs arose that the rule was being
evaded systematically in two ways. First, that ponies
were prepared for measurement by methods which
were cruel and unfair. The attention of the
Hurlingham Committee was drawn by the P. and
R.P.S. Council to the practices, or supposed
practices in vogue. The members of the latter
society being mostly breeders of ponies were much

On inquiry the Hurlingham Committee found
that, while the extent of such practices had been
gready exaggerated, there was some foundation for the
charge. In any case the idea of such practices being
in vogue depreciated the value of the Hurlingham
Committee's certificate, and several agricultural shows
refused to accept it. The Polo and Riding Pony
Society, however, gave useful support by accepting
the Hurlingham certificate, and indeed making it
compulsory for ponies entered in its stud book.
At the same time I think that the picturesque stories
of " faking " were made too much of. Again the
confidence felt in Sir H. Simpson, the late, and Mr.
Sheather, the present, official measurer, has con-
tributed much to establish the Hurlingham certificate
in its proper position.

The rule, however, was evaded in another way,
which became easy as polo grew popular and the
number of ponies employed increased. A pony
which had been rejected or which obviously could not


be measured, might be played, even at Hurlingham
itself, and possibly in a tournament. Sold as a " good
polo pony" — for auctioneers take no responsibility
as to whether polo ponies offered at their sales are
registered or not — " that had played at one or other
of the first-class clubs," such a pony might easily, as
some did and do, work its way into circulation as a
polo pony. This has been met by adding a penalty
of disqualification of the whole team in which such a
pony plays, and thus practically throwing on the
captain of the team the responsibility of seeing that
the ponies are all registered. This, however, seems
still to leave a loophole open for the introduction of
ponies over height, since it is no one's business to
find out whether the team has such a pony among
possibly twenty or more brought for play.

The rule might be strengthened in two ways.

I St. That every captain when entering a team
should deposit a list of ponies with their registered
numbers. There need be no difficulty in changing
one or more of the ponies if it is desired to do so,
always provided the registered number of the sub-
stitute is given.

2nd, If auctioneers would insist on the insertion
of the registered number of the pony in their catalogues
when he has one. The absence of a number would
inform buyers that the pony had not been measured,
and put them on their guard. It may be added,
however, that no prudent purchaser would buy a
pony, unless he had first ascertained whether the
pony's height was registered at Hurlingham.


Unsafe Pony.

2. No pony showing vice or not under proper control
shall be allowed in the game. (Penalty 10.)

This is one of the most important rules, with re-
gard to the safety of players. A vicious or uncon-
trollable pony is a constant source of danger. In my
own experience many serious accidents have occurred
as a consequence of a pony being under insufficient
control. But this rule is now so carefully enforced,
that it is very rare to see a pony at a well-managed
club that is really dangerous to its rider or the other

Games are arranged at most county clubs known
as " cantering games "in which young ponies may
be tested. But as a matter of fact it is not only
wrong to bring a pony with a temper on to a polo
ground, but useless, for such a pony will never play
well. Sometimes, however, ponies develop vice
quite suddenly, and I have known two cases of
hitherto perfectly well-mannered ponies suddenly
kicking in a game, and one of a hitherto blameless pony
taking to biting. Such ponies would, however, be
rightly allowed no second chance in any polo club


3. The goals to be not less than 250 yards apart, and
each goal to be 8 yards wide. A full-sized ground should
not exceed 300 yards in length by 200 yards in width, if
unboarded ; and 300 yards in length and 160 yards in width
if boarded.


This rule establishes a minimum and maximum
size for a match ground, and offers advice as to the
size of a boarded ground. The dimensions of the
polo ground were brought from India, but it was
some years before there was a full-sized ground in
England. The original polo ground at Hurlingham,
though larger than its predecessor at Lillie Bridge,
was still much smaller than most Indian grounds. It
was then, as it is still (though it has been greatly
enlarged and improved), of an irregular oval shape.
Then came Ranelagh, and this was the first club to
lay out a ground exactly of the size recommended
here. I remember going over the match ground
with the late Mr, Moray Brown soon after he had
become polo manager at Ranelagh, and after some
trouble we succeeded in measuring out a ground that
was 300 yards by 160 yards. In those days we
should have liked another 40 yards of width. I
believe this ground was at that time one of the largest
in England.

However, the first full-sized ground that was
made near London was at Eden Park. It was the
experience gained on that ground that led polo
players to think that a ground of less width than
200 yards was needed when the sides were boarded.
The surface of an Indian polo ground is much harder
and quicker than the soft turf of England ; the bam-
boo-root ball is lighter than our willow-root one, and
therefore is more likely to go out of bounds. But
when men began to play on a full-sized ground in
England, it was soon noticed that the ball went out



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A-B, D-C, Boards 300 yards long.

E-F, E-F, Line 60 yards from back line.

a-a, a-a, Goal line 8 yards from post to post.

b-b, b-b, Line 30 yards from back line.

G Pavilion.

F, F, Scoring boards.

U Umpire bowling in new ball when former one has been^damagedL


but seldom, — sometimes not once in ten minutes or
longer. The pace at which good polo is now played
makes ten minutes quite long enough for a period
at polo, but, inasmuch as the bell is not rung to close
the period until the ball goes out, it may often happen
that ponies are kept going for several minutes over
the prescribed time. The experience at Eden Park
showed that the want of the intervals of rest afforded
by the ball going out, were greatly missed by the
players and ponies.

Opinion among players has wavered for some
time as to whether 150 or 170 yards is the better
width for a match ground. The former is probably
the better, but 1 60 yards may perhaps hit the happy
mean. Yet managers of county clubs and others,
who may find a difficulty in securing a suitable
extent of level ground, may take comfort in re-
flecting that while 300x160 is expedient, 250
yards in length and 24 feet between the goal-posts
is all that is actually required. The question of
breadth is left open. Yet there is no doubt that
the dimensions recommended, which are the result
of some years of experience, should be, as far as
possible, adhered to in the laying out of new

This reduction of the size of the polo ground
may be viewed with a certain amusement when we
recollect that it was foretold, when the present
Rule I was passed, that the increase in the height
of ponies used would lead to great inconvenience, as
it would certainly make necessary a general increase


in the size of polo grounds. But it has turned out
that a general decrease is the real effect of a fast

Size and Weight of Balls.

4. The size of the balls shall not exceed 3J inches in
diameter, and the weight of the ball shall not exceed
5J ounces.

The balls used in England are made of willow-
root, and are painted white. The present rule allows
a slightly greater size and weight than the one before,
but it probably only makes permissible the size and
weight which have long been used.

Umpire. Referee.

5. Each side shall nominate an umpire, unless it be
mutually agreed to play with one instead of two ; and his
or their decisions shall be final. In important matches, in
addition to the umpires a referee may be appointed, whose
decision, in the event of the umpires disagreeing, shall be

Whistle. Umpire. Referee,

6. The umpire shall carry a whistle, which he shall use
as required. If the umpire blow his whistle the ball is
dead, but if the other umpire disagrees, a referee shall be
called in, who, after consulting both umpires and taking
any necessary evidence, shall decide on the course to be

These two rules may be taken as one. Rule 5
is often broken. Matches are played without an
umpire at all. It is very rare for the sides to
nominate an umpire in England. In New Zealand


it is not uncommon for a team, when on a visit to
a tournament at another club, to take an umpire
with them. The usual practice in England is for
the polo manager of the club where the match is
played to appoint the umpires. This seems to be
the better plan, since it is undesirable that the
sympathies of the umpires should be identified with
any team. In India there are some very useful
instructions to umpires, which are put out under
the authority of the Indian Polo Association.

The most noteworthy addition to this rule is
that when the umpire blows his whistle the ball
is dead. The umpire therefore takes the whole
responsibility of stopping the game, the moment he
puts the whistle to his lips. No one but the other
umpire may question the decision. The players
must submit in silence.

If the other umpire disagrees, the referee who is
to be appointed in all important matches — this word
"important'* seems to need further definition — is
to be appealed to. The referee may not often be
called in, but, none the less, his is a necessary
office. It is impossible perhaps to provide against
all cases of injustice, but the following might bear
hardly on a side : — One umpire. A, gives a foul and
blows his whistle, the other, B, disagrees. The
referee, C, decides against A, but the ball is dead,
and the mischief is done and cannot be repaired.

It is easy to imagine a case in which the side
which was in possession of the ball might suffer
considerable disadvantage from the mere fact of the


game being stopped at that juncture. Nevertheless,
the absolute prohibition of wrangling or argument
is a great advantage. Umpires will do their work
all the better, and give their decisions more freely
if they are not to be called upon to give their
reasons or hear outspoken condemnation of their
decision by excited players. Moreover, it is ob-
vious that there are some cases in which the second
umpire could not disagree. For example, only one
umpire is usually in a position to see an " offside.'*
This, which is one of the points most often dis-
puted, can henceforth scarcely be a subject for
appeal. It is not perhaps likely that umpires will
often feel obliged to exercise the severe penalty
for disputing their decisions, which would almost
certainly result in the loss of the match to the side
that had a man disqualified.

Time- Keeper and Scorer,

7. An official time-keeper and scorer shall be employed
in all games and matches.

The duties of the time -keeper and scorer are
important, and should be entrusted to a person
who can keep a clear head and will pay attention
to what he is doing. In a close-fought game every
moment is of importance, and the error of a fraction
of a minute either way may cause a side to win or
lose a match. The time-keeper must be provided
with a stop-watch, and should use it carefully. As
each ten minutes draws to a close he must be on
the look-out to have the bell rung at the exact

Online LibraryT. F. (Thomas Francis) DalePolo past and present → online text (page 21 of 33)