History of Arena Polo
Arena polo has its origins in the USA during the last century when the officers of a US Army cavalry regiment needed a means to practice field polo during the harsh winter months. At their barracks, they had a large indoor riding school and they developed the game of arena polo to train themselves and their horses for field polo. Before long, the game became popular in its own right until today there are more arena polo clubs in America than there are field polo clubs and the number of players is much higher than field polo. In UK the game is increasing in popularity and there are now more than 20 clubs and 800 players throughout the land.
Background to Arena Polo
Arena Polo is played with three players per team on a regulation size field 90 metres by 40 metres, enclosed by walls of 1.5 or more metres in height. The normal game consists of four chukkas/periods of seven and one-half minutes each. Riders change horses at the end of each chukka/period. Arena Polo does not require the large number of horses to play that Outdoor/Grass Polo demands. Many players use two horses, alternating horses each chukka/period. The Arena Polo ball is similar to a mini soccer ball, larger than the small hard plastic ball used outdoors. While the larger size gives the new player confidence in learning to hit the ball, proper technique is necessary because the arena game is played on a dirt surface with the ball bouncing on the uneven surface and off the arena wall.
Arena Polo can be played either indoors or outdoors, days or nights under lights and weather permitting, all year around. Many clubs only play Arena Polo due to the high cost of maintaining grass fields and the smaller field size required. Arena Polo Clubs usually have a school/student program with horses for rent to student players learning the proper way to play the game, the rules of play and proper riding techniques.
Arena Polo is extremely exciting, with many changes in direction, fast action and a great spectator sport. Arena Polo can be an excellent introduction to polo and many of the players start in the Arena. With a qualified instructor, a new player can quickly learn proper hitting techniques and improve riding skills. With the constant change of direction of play in the arena, the player learns to recognize and properly enter the line and right of way, change from offence to defence and the need for team play. By playing in a confined arena, players feel more secure and with the ball rebounding off the arena walls, a player has more opportunities to hit the ball. Horses, while moving with quick bursts of speed, are more under control. Players are taught proper team play, how to hit a pass to teammates, and to learn to anticipate opponent's plays and strategies.
Arena Polo in South Africa
The very first polo arena to be constructed in SA was erected by Ginger Baker on his property in Natal but was later moved to Selby Williamson's polo establishment in East Griqualand. The first dedicated arena polo club, Oaklands Arena Polo Club, was formed in February 2005 in the Eastern Free State. In November 2005, SAPA endorsed arena polo as a game in its own right under their auspices and appointed Jamie Bruce, the Chairman of the Oaklands club, as the first Chairman of the fledgling South African Arena Polo Association. It is hoped that other clubs will soon open their doors to arena polo and that this exciting sport will make the game of polo more accessible to a wider audience. Jamie very sadly passed away in February 2010 – for any enquiries regarding Arena Polo please contact the South African Polo Association.