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The History of Polo

Early Polo in Persia

The sport of Polo is without doubt the oldest ball game in the world.

A game of Central Asian origin, Polo was first played in Persia (Iran) at dates given from the 6th century BC to the 1st century AD.

Polo was at first a training game for cavalry units, usually the king’s guard or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen, who played it with as many as 100 to a side, it was a miniature battle.

In time Polo became a Persian national sport played extensively by the nobility. Women as well as men played the game, as indicated by references to the queen and her ladies engaging King Khosrow II Parviz and his courtiers in the 6th century AD.

Valuable for training Cavalry, the game was played from Constantinople to Japan by the Middle Ages. Known in the East as the Game of Kings, Tamer lane’s Polo grounds can still be seen in Samarkand.

British tea planters in India witnessed the game in the early 1800’s but it was not until the 1850’s that the British Cavalry drew up the earliest rules and by the 1869’s the game was well established in England.

The first club in England, the Monmouthshire, was founded in 1872 and others, including Hurlingham, followed quickly. Handicaps were introduced by the USA in 1888 and by England and India in 1910.

Polo at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin

From 1900 to 1936, Polo was an Olympic discipline and has now been recognized again by the International Olympic Committee.

After the last war, mechanization of the cavalry – the traditional ‘nursery’ for Polo players – and national austerity boded ill for the future of the game. But the enthusiasm of players such as the 3rd Viscount Cowdray, ‘father’ of modern English Polo, saw a revival in the late 1940s.

 

Update – March 24, 2020

Archaeologists discover first evidence of polo on donkeys

While Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) texts indicate that noble women played polo riding donkeys, this has never been documented archaeologically until now…

Polo is thought to have evolved from equestrian games developed by nomads in central Asia. Though there is archaeological evidence for a predecessor of the sport in China from approximately 2,400 years ago, the game, in which teams of horse-mounted riders compete to knock a ball into a goal, skyrocketed in popularity a millennium later during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907).

References to horse polo abound in Tang Dynasty art and literature, and many Tang-era tombs feature polo-related artifacts and art, including mausoleum murals and ceramic figurines. But scholars of the period have always been curious about a subset of ancient polo depictions that seemingly show donkeys, not horses, on the field in a game called ljvu.

The first archaeological evidence for Tang-era donkey polo comes from the tomb of Cui Shi, a noblewoman who died in 878 in Xi’an in central China. When archaeologists recently opened the tomb, they discovered that it had been looted sometime over the past 1,150 years. The looters took most things of value, but left some objects behind, including a stone epitaph, a lead stirrup, and a variety of seemingly worthless animal skeletons. Using mitochondrial DNA analysis, the researchers determined at least three of the animals buried with Cui Shi were donkeys.

Full article in The National Geographic

 

Polo Today

Polo is played in around eighty countries worldwide. Indeed, unlike most sports, it is played somewhere in the world all year round – from England to Argentina, from the USA to India and from Switzerland (yes, there is even snow Polo) to the Gulf.

Polo on snow in St.Moritz

The premier Polo nations are Argentina, England and the USA, followed closely by Australia and New Zealand. There has recently been a popular renaissance of the game in India, with many of the old princely states and families taking up the sport of their fathers; while in Europe, Santa María Polo club, Sotogrande, is fast becoming one of the finest high-goal centres in the world.

To date there are three main clubs in Scotland; The Dundee and Perth Polo Club, The Edinburgh Polo Club, Stewarton Polo Club, and The Border Reivers Polo Club.