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Tell me about polo ponies

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  • Tell me about polo ponies

    Hi, I didn't want to hijack the other thread on polo ponies so I thought I'd start another one. I bought my TB mare about a year ago. I know nothing about polo so any info on these type of horses is appreciated. I love my mare. She doesn't take a lot of leg and is super comfortable to ride.

    When I first got her, she was always pulling on me. My trainer said this is b/c polo ponies get yanked around in the mouth. My trainer suggested riding her in a German martingale and a happy mouth bit; and she stopped pulling almost immediately. She has her own motor but she always listens. She is not a poker but she has slowed down a bit. As some people mention she stops on a dime (though I have yet to come off her, knock on wood).

    Why do polo ponies not need a lot of leg? Of a polo player wants them to go faster how do they get them to go faster w/o leg pressure? I've started jumping small obstacles (2ft) and she has good form. She'll take a peek at the first couple of jumps but then she's fine and doesn't need much encouragement to go over the jumps.

    My trainer said she probably got too big and that's why they didn't want her anymore. Between the polo stint and me, she was at an eventing barn; but they didn't like her...I also had heard bad things about mares but this mare has been lovely when I'm on and off the saddle.

    Also is it common to have TBs for polo? Thanks for any stories or advice.

  • #2
    hi! i used to work as a groom and play polo. i worked for a private club for little over 5 years in central california. in 2009 i made a return to jumpers/dressage. i learned a lot during my polo era.

    1. NOT ALWAYS TRUE ABOUT THEM BEING YANKED ON THE FACE! it depends on who owned/rode them. there are a lot of people who play because it's 'the thing' who have little to no horse experience. and sigh, they usually churned & burned their ponies out pretty quick because of their lack of riding skills. those are the riders who balance on their hands who often have more money than common sense when it comes to horses (words of a fellow groom). the reason for the pelhams, gags, etc. is because there is/was a 2 rein rule (i left polo in 2007 so some of my info may be dated). draw reins were used as 'brakes'. my ponies and a few other players who knew how to ride, we had great horses which brings me to point two. in fact, i knew a lot of terrific polo players who had experience as successful eventers, dressage riders, reiners, etc. it's kinda like the mentality of barrel racers only knowing how to turn 'n burn them.

    2. THEY ARE LEG RESPONSIVE!!!!!!!! i had a mare who would turn on a dime and give you 9 cents back. see point 1 about a player who knows how to ride and not a wing and a prayer either! :-) i think your trainer would've liked my polo ponies. squeeze your butt cheeks and they're coming to a screeching halt. mine responded better to leg than anything else. the slightest shift in my weight/leg pressure and i'd have a response of direction change/speed.

    3. pfffft on the size issue. yes, you have some players who like the shorties (14.2 hands and under). my boss, who in his 60s had grown to appreciate the 14 handers. they're easier to ride, easier to gauge their stride to the ball when compared to their 15 hand + counterparts. the larger ponies had a longer stride that required a rider to well, actually ride! there was a 16 hand i loved to play. he was a great babysitter when i was first learning to play and i thank cisco a lot for taking such good care of me when i was first learning how to wield a mallet. i personally preferred 15 hand ponies. my best mare was a 15.3 hand tb mare named kiwi. i got a funny story about kiwi. but a lot depends on the "trend".

    4. tb's are popular options because of their size variety, heart, speed. as are criollos (argentine swamp ponies as my ex would call them), quarterhorses also a popular option.

    5. wow your trainer with this fact: polo players prefer mares because they'll give you 110% plus the extra 20% in reserve! i loved mares because they'd be more aggressive on the field. my geldings were the lazy ones. :-)

    6. why your mare might've hated polo: some could not handle the galloping in a pack, chasing a ball, having a green rider balance on her face. i had a couple i'd buy who were sour on the game, give them a few months off and have them go chase cows, learn to jump, etc. before bringing them back to polo. if they hated it, they went on to a new career. much how not every horse is cut out for dressage, not every horse is cut out for polo. the ones who i knew/noticed hating go for a stick & ball session were the ones who went up for sale and have entered happy careers as cow horses, hunters, and even one driving horse. who would've thunk it?

    7. why she could have been pulling on you: she's not balanced/trained for english riding. polo ponies are generally encouraged to run/play with their head up in the air (yes, i know... i had the same look of disbelief when i first took my job after having worked in a dressage barn for 3 years). and chances are she had the rider who'd balance on her face and learned that she could probably terrify him with that stunt. i had one who did that and when he learned that i could uh, ride he quit. i'd have a few in the off season who i'd take over fences, work cattle, teach dressage.

    8. most of the patrons are mediocre to poor players who surround themselves with players who can play well. (words of my former boss-don't flame me!)

    9. i love how polo ponies behave/get along with most horses. i love how most of them do fine in a pack situation. very few have issues loading in trailers, behave well around other horses, etc. very different from the bubble wrapped lifestyles of the dressage horses i was previously handling. i could walk 8 horses at once and not have a problem. i really liked being able to exercise 9 at once.

    kiwi's story: i got kiwi after trading her for a mare that didn't fit my string. she was a #1 playing mare in new zealand, got imported where a wealthy business man played her. he couldn't handle her anymore so i traded her for another horse i had (long story there). when i took her home i was told she played in a jointed pelham. she was a pretty nervous mare so i had her buddy up with my sainted mare, sue. they became peanut butter & jelly. if other horses pulled back on the tie rail, kiwi would LOOK at sue to find sue yawning at the horses pulling back and kiwi would decide if sue didn't care, neither did she. anyhoodle...

    mind you, i took kiwi without having ever gotten on her. if i hated her, i'd take her back was the agreement. no problem. i tack kiwi up and go to ride her. i have a rearing, bucking, hot mess on my hands. wtf, right? if some beginner player could ride her, so could i! a week goes by with this. my tack fits, nothing wrong with her physically. i'm getting ready to take her back. but i'm giving her one more chance. i decide to ride her in my HS loose ring. hey, if she's gonna act like a 3 year old i'm going to treat her like a 3 year old.

    sha-zam. no fireworks, she rides like an old plug, etc. etc. i call up the agent i got her from to kick around the dirt on her a little bit. oh yeah, he tells me... her old owner couldn't control her so he'd keep amping up the bits (back to my point about the riders who can't ride to save their lives, right?). ah, that's why her previous owner was getting rid of her. i start playing her in a rubber gag (2 rein rule, remember).

    and feel free to ask anything else. i got a stockpile of funny stories to tell.



    • Original Poster

      Thanks for the wealth of information Kell. .

      I have to say my mare is very well balanced so somewhere someone taught her well, or does polo just train the horses to carry themselves well? She is a dream, knock on wood. She's also very responsive. I was always nervous cantering jumps so I never moved up in height or could really compete. I still need much practice and I hope I continue to improve.

      I've started cantering lines on this mare. . Something I never did before on my old TB (who was not well balanced). She also hasn't really done h/j but b/c of her balance she seems to be able to deal w/ the distances (I hope I'm not jinxing myself). She's so responsive to me that she breaks into the canter w/o me pulling on her; she can just sense my nervousness. Same thing w/ the canter, she'll slow to a crawl heading to a jump.

      Obviously not the way to jump. My trainer has stressed the importance of not transferring my fear to her b/c she's so confident; so I have to ride forward or at least not impede her by slowing down. B/c she has been so responsive, she has made me more confident knowing she'll listen to me.

      I took her to a show once and she seemed to become more up when the riders in the previous class were coming out. She may have just sensed me being nervous so maybe it was my fault. I have this irrational fear she'll take off in a group of horses and get really fast. I mean she's so nice that I can't imagine why someone would have gotten rid of her. I guess I'm just "waiting" to see what the downside of her is...


      • #4
        I second most everything kellb said in her post though have a few additional things...

        I have experience in a number of equine disciplines including dressage, eventing, polo and racing. To answer a few of your questions...

        Something like 80-90% of polo ponies are mares - they tend to have more heart and drive.

        Riding style in polo is different than most other sports - players grip with their knees to give them a solid base to get off their pony's back and hit the ball. There is no constant lower leg pressure like you will find in jumping/dressage. Therefore, squeezing with ones lower legs means go - that is your gas pedal! As a side note - the more you relax on her, the better she will be. Not only will she feel your relaxed energy, but when you are tense, you may be unknowingly squeezing with your legs thus asking her to go forward.

        How tall is she? It's hard to say why she may have been retired from polo and transitioned to a new career. Polo ponies are generally in the 15.0-.15.3 hand range although there is a degree of personal preference and I've seen smaller as well as taller (know a few tall guys who for obvious reasons prefer bigger mounts!). She may have just not liked the game (as some racehorses don't want to run, jumper-hopefulls don't want to jump, etc). Additionally, polo ponies are balanced (or should be) similar to upper level dressage horses or jumpers. They should be working off their hind ends, light in front and sensitive to your seat, weight, legs and hands. In contrast to what was said earlier, they are not "encouraged" to run with their heads up. They are taught to carry themselves a certain way but are not asked to be in a frame. You will see some with their heads higher than others but will also see some in a frame. Obviously they can't run at top speed in a frame (sort of like us running with our arms tight to our sides!

        TB's are VERY popular in polo - again, heart, speed, endurance, size, mentality, etc.

        I'm excited for you that you have an ex polo pony. I'm sure you will have an amazing time with her. Polo ponies are pretty unflappable. Generally speaking, they clip, tie, trailer, bath, etc amazingly and as KellB said are extremely well behaved in close quarters with other horses.

        They are basically the sportscar of the horseworld.

        On a side note, while I don't know your trainer (and maybe it was just the way your original post was written) she seems to have a pretty negative opinion of polo ponies as well as the players and grooms who work, train and play them. As I'm sure you are aware, there are bad apples in polo as there are in every other discipline. To paint all players or horses with a broad brush (polo ponies get yanked around in the mouth) is not only ignorant but offensive. I'm not by any means saying you feel this way but am disappointed that someone who calls themself a professional trainer would openly speak negatively about a sport they don't have experience with.

        Best of luck with her and as KellB said, if you have any other questions, feel free to ask!


        • #5
          I took a few polo lessons years ago and the instructor had a laugh and said, "LOOKS LIKE WE'VE GOT A HUNTER JUMPER OVER HERE!"

          On the polo ponies (this string at least) we were instructed to rotate onto the thigh... almost gripping with the knee I guess, to take the lower leg off the horse. You'd hold the two sets of reins all arranged in one hand and the mallet in the other.

          To go faster on these polo ponies we would lean forward in a bit of a two point and give with the reins slightly, to slow we would shift our weight back to the saddle and take more of a feel on the bridle. The horses were incredible sensitive and nimble, not to mention tolerant of our many "swing, miss, and swear" antics. They also had great manners - being transported as team and even multiple horses being worked/ponied by a single rider.

          PS You can tell a polo saddle from "just some other a/p" because the padded panel that runs vertically along the front flap is quite short. So I think the toes-foward, leg-off thing is actually legit.


          • #6
            Originally posted by teal tea View Post
            I have this irrational fear she'll take off in a group of horses and get really fast. I mean she's so nice that I can't imagine why someone would have gotten rid of her. I guess I'm just "waiting" to see what the downside of her is...
            I can't say whether she'll ever get a case of the yahoos and go off for a hoon, BUT there are plenty of good reasons she was sold that have nothing to do with potentially explosive temprament:

            1. She just didn't want to play polo anymore. It happens.
            2. Like your trainer suggested, she's too tall. I play a 16h horse, I know folks who've played up to 16-1, mostly taller men who like a taller horse. 15-2 is about typical, though.
            3. She had some kind of injury that made her unsuitable for high-speed work, even though she'll be sound for anything else.
            4. Her owner got out of polo, or got a new horse who suited the owner better.

            There's a polo club in Manor and they have tournaments from time to time...you oughtta go watch one.


            • Original Poster

              Thanks everyone for educating me. . My mare is 16.1, btw. It's interesting to find out that the polo riders use their knees as a base of support.

              My previous horse, that I had to put down was an OTTB. Now I have this TB. It seems to me that if and when I'm ever in the market for a new horse, a polo pony may be a good direction.

              Helen, I think I may want to check out the polo place in Manor. It may be close to me. I'm on Gregg Lane.


              • #8
                My most favorite horse I owned was a failed polo horse. She was a 15.1 TB, off the track, spent time on a polo string and was too slow for competition so they used her to teach polo lessons on. She was 8 when I bought her and broke to death, nothing ever flapped her.


                • #9
                  The other thing about playing a horse over 16hh, besides being more horse to 'package' for stops and turns, is that the ball starts getting reeeeeally far away. A tall horse can also be less effective in the ride-off: if there's a significant size difference, the smaller horse can literally get under the taller horse, stand her up, and push her off the line.

                  Love, love, love my polo ponies, failed and otherwise.


                  • #10
                    The mallet gets longer and harder to control with a taller horse too. As for leg...I know several polo coaches who will put a leaf under both knees and expect that leaf to still be there when you're finished riding.


                    • #11
                      Another voice chiming in to say that polo ponies, especially polo mares, are the most wonderful horses to be around. They almost always take on a new job willingly and because they're athletic, do quite well.

                      The hardest thing to teach them (IMHO) is to go on the bit. They are taught to operate kind of like reining horses: neck reining for lateral positioning, bit contact for slow down, and as little bit pressure as possible in between. Teaching them to stretch down into contact takes patience, a soft hand and a welcoming bit (Happy mouth, Nathe, KK have all worked for me in the past)
                      They don't call me frugal for nothing.
                      Proud and achy member of the Eventing Grannies clique.


                      • #12
                        Hi, I am a hunter/jumper and dressage rider who also happens to be a polo player and groom for 26 wonderful polo ponies A few things about polo ponies..... 1. I'm going to strongly reiterate what was said before about their mouths, polo ponies are not yanked in the mouth all of the time!!! As a rule, most of my ponies have really sensitive mouths and if you yanked back on them, you'd find yourself on the ground.....Also, not too sure why people say they don't listen to your lower leg. Mine all turn and go forward off my lower leg. In my experience, polo ponies are very willing animals with excellent manners. They also don't tend to be phased by new experiences. I have a polo pony that I also do the hunters with. She took to jumping fantastically. I also have a polo pony that injured herself and after time off, I brought her back as a dressage horse. Trust your mare and don't be afraid to ride as you normally would. good luck!

                        Here's a picture of my polo pony Missy, after our first show

                        Here's a picture of Savannah, my polo pony turned dressage horse


                        • #13
                          Another lucky owner of a retired polo pony here!

                          Here we are this past fall: http://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-...10094033_n.jpg

                          And this "winter": http://a6.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphot...66165110_n.jpg

                          She is absolutely in line with what everyone here has told you. A small, tenacious but ludicrously tolerant Thoroughbred mare. She does everything I have ever asked her to do (except have her mane pulled). I don't know what I'll do when she's gone and I have to handle other horses.

                          Trail ride alone? Done. Be a brick wall for novice trail riders to aim their horses at? No problem. Dogs? Cool. Horses galloping at/along side you? Whatever. Not to mention all my clumsy brush-flinging antics and log-hopping cross-country adventures.

                          It actually didn't register with me that she was actively just staying under my center of gravity until a few weeks ago. When I stopped looking down at this particular corner of the ring and she stopped falling in, trying to catch me...

                          And let me also second what others have said about bits and hands. Quiet (like silent) hands, and a Happy Mouth mullen mouth bit. I'm a hand-fidgeter so this has always been tough for me. She will take a contact now, about six years later! Our current obstacles are that she could stand about six hundred canter transitions with a rider with a following seat and light hands, and I can't ride the canter. Sigh. The other thing I have struggled with is using circles and spirals to balance her when she gets strung out. The conversation sometimes goes like this...Rider: Oh, you want to run? Try to run on a small circle! Horse: Okay!!!

                          She has this wonderful earnestness that I just love. Not to mention those long-suffering sighs she will give out when I decide to play Barbie.
                          Disclaimer: My mom told me that people might look at my name and think I had an addiction other than horses. I don't; his name was Bravado.


                          • #14
                            I love polo ponies. Invariably kind and level headed (heck, they have to be!) but with 0-60 speed in half a heartbeat and the turning capacity that's already been mentioned, they're not for beginners, or the faint of heart. The first horse I ever leased was an ex polo pony chestnut TB mare, and I adored her. I'd have another in a new york minute. Having serious horse envy that you have one, but am delighted you're so happy with her. Congrats on what will be a wonderful partnership.
                            In loving memory of Laura Jahnke.
                            A life lived by example, done too soon.


                            • Original Poster

                              Wow, love those pics.

                              Yes I love her. My late OTTB was not athletic in the least but I think he was a good first horse. My trainer does define this mare as athletic. Having been used to my old horse, when I first rode her and she would turn, I would be saying "I didn't cue her to turn w/ my leg". Inadvertently I think I was probably asking w/ my seat. But a year later, I've gotten very comfortable w/ her. Thanks for the congrats.


                              • Original Poster

                                Sorry forgot to add, yes she does seem to have a good mind. The only times she seems to get a bit up is if the horses out in their paddocks are running b/c they haven't been out. And also the time when we were outside a ring and the previous horses were coming out of the ring (but that was probably my fault b/c I conveyed nervousness perhaps through my seat).


                                • #17
                                  BTW, she's 20 in those photos
                                  Disclaimer: My mom told me that people might look at my name and think I had an addiction other than horses. I don't; his name was Bravado.


                                  • #18
                                    20! WOW she looks awesome!

                                    Teal Tea, show us some pics


                                    • #19
                                      Polo ponies are the brave and noble of the equine world (and yes I'm biased).
                                      I have 7. They are all fillies and mares. I've played the sport since I was 13.
                                      TB's are very common (I have 5 OTT).Your mare would have been on the big side but nothing out of the ordinary (my biggest is a hair under 16 h).
                                      We ask for acceleration by putting our hand forward. A properly trained polo pony will accelerate off this cue.

                                      For jumping you will slowly be able to desensitize her to more leg. Add a little more with each ride, and be sure to put that hand forward and allow her to GO when you ask for it. All of my polo ponies jump! I find them very rateable, with a great metranome canter. However, in this vein, some prefer the rider in two point, and some prefer you to sit the canter. In my profile picture you can see an example of one of my green horses who is "relaxed" by my two point.

                                      Also, when she was pulling on you, was she snatching forward or pulling down (rooting)? Regardless, sounds like you sorted the issue out.

                                      Sounds like you got a nice one, have fun!!


                                      • #20
                                        As people have said Polo Ponies are frequently thoroughbreds, maybe mostly, but actually they are any horse that can play.

                                        Some are yanked around but not usually the good ones and certainly not by the good players, you really don't have time to fight, when you want the horse to turn he must turn, stop he must stop. As mentioned most are ridden on a loose rein.

                                        The theory is that a smaller horse will turn quicker although I am not sure that's true. In fact I have had small ponies who turn quickly and big ones who stop and turn quickly. (What's more important is how they stride) long strides and its less easy to pull them together quickly.

                                        A big pony will always have an advantage in a ride off, it stands to reason, put a 6ft4 rugby player to bump into 5ft2 one and see who comes off the worst. Same with horses. The big horses will also mostly win the race down the field although my smallest who is 15hh won 5 races so maybe that doesn't always hold true.

                                        The mallet/stick length is not such an issue, in my younger days I used to play everything with a 51inch stick whether they were 14.2 or 16hh the ball is always the same distance from the eye. Now I am standardized on a 53 and my ponies are bigger 15.3 to 16.1hh

                                        If you are being pulled it maybe a schooling issue or a bitting issue.