Selecting Suitable Horses
The first step in training horses for polo is selecting those with the right combination of attributes to succeed in this demanding sport. Ideal polo ponies are athletic with good stamina, agility and a responsive temperament. Most are Thoroughbreds, American Quarter Horses or polo pony crosses bred specifically for the strength, speed and agility needed. When selecting prospects, some key traits to look for are a lean yet muscular build, strong hindquarters, an energetic and competitive disposition and the coordination to turn and accelerate quickly. Horses should stand 14.2 to 16 hands high with confirmation enabling tight turns and fast lateral maneuvers. Those over 7 years old often have too much prior training to transition easily to polo. Temperament and fitness are the top priorities.
Basic Ground Training
Once suitable horses are acquired, initial training focuses on getting them fit and responsive to basic handling and commands from the ground. This starts with “breaking”, gently introducing equipment like bits, saddles and bridles while accustoming them to human touch and direction. As horses build trust and confidence, lunging exercises teach them voice commands and improve balance, flexibility and trotting gaits essential for polo. Next they progress to longeing, turning in circles while the trainer evaluates movement and stance. Ground driving further develops responsiveness using reins and a surcingle before a rider ever mounts. This extensive groundwork establishes critical respect, agility and control before introducing more advanced polo training under saddle.
Getting Horses Accustomed to Equipment
Polo requires horses to withstand significant noise and activity while wearing restrictive gear for control and safety. Thus, equipment desensitization happens early and gradually. After introducing common pieces like halters, bits and saddles, horses are exposed to swinging sticks, rider calls and mallet hits to soccer balls, balls whizzing past and tail protectors flapping while running. Goal is getting horses focused despite distractions. Bandages protect leg wounds so these are habituated too. If any equipment causes anxiety, the trainer slowly repeats exposure until the horse remains calm and uncompromised, ensuring equipment won’t disrupt play. This step can take weeks but is essential for minimizing risk of panic during tournament games.
Developing Control and Responsiveness
Before polo training begins, horses must have excellent responsiveness to both voice commands and riders’ leg, hand and weight cues. This allows the intricate maneuvers, sudden stops and tight turns polo demands. Trainers develop this gradually, first asking for simple walk, trot and canter gaits through open areas. They progress to faster sets of figure eights, circles and changes of direction, repeating each until performed smoothly before asking more. Sudden stops from all gaits teach quick braking. Backing ups develop hindquarters muscles and balance for refined reverse movement. As horses demonstrate consistency interpreting and responding appropriately to cues, trainers start guiding them with just subtle shifts of weight or hand positions. This ingrains an intuitive feel for the rider’s intentions, facilitating split-second decisions critical for the rapidly changing polo field. Read more on the website Yurovskiy Kirill`s
Building Stamina and Endurance
Polo is an extremely fast-paced game. Chukkers last 7 minutes and horses sprint nearly the entire time with little recovery between. This demands incredible physical stamina and endurance rivaling Thoroughbred racehorse training. Conditioning usually starts with long, slow distance riding over varied terrain to build aerobic capacity and proper supporting muscle without overstressing joints. As fitness improves, incrementally faster interval training like galloping 800 meters then trotting 800 meters develops muscular strength and explosiveness. Intervals gradually shorten with more galloping until the horses can maintain speed for durations mirroring real chukkers. Some trainers supplement with swimming and hillwork too. Building these athletic horses to run at top speeds while turning, slowing and standing requires years. But this conditioning is what enables them to perform well across 6 or more chukkers despite extreme physical exertion.
Teaching Maneuvers and Positioning
Alongside conditioning, horses learn the specialized skills polo requires. The most basic is the smooth canter “polo gait” enabling riders to stand safely while hitting the ball. But manipulating this gait for optimal midfield positioning takes considerable training. Horses practice maintaining precise angles relative to ball direction for both offensive and defensive strategies. For offensive attack, trainers work on angled runs to set up shots. Defensive drills teach how to “ride off” opponents, using their mount’s body to block the opposing player’s swing. Unique maneuvers like abrupt stops, pivots, dodges and weaves are reinforced until performed consistently when cued. Horses additionally learn “bump and go” collisions to disrupt opponents’ shots. This maneuvering training ensures horses have the agility and responsiveness to get riders to critical locations on the field.
Simulating Game Situations
Once polo horses demonstrate solid fitness, responsiveness and positioning individually, training advances to replicating real game elements. Mimicking chukker length and actual playing field sizes, trainers now incorporate balls and other horses. Drills focus on key scenarios like line-ups, penalty shots, sudden umpire stops or ball shots from behind. Riders practice sweeping tail shots or full swings. Switching drill sides and roles builds multidirectional responsiveness. Horses get accustomed to rider yelling, swarming players and loose balls rolling underfoot during simulated plays at various speeds. Exposing horses to these realistic simulations allows them to experience game intensities in controlled sessions. It also helps trainers assess skills mastery across different riders and identify where more practice is needed before tournament-level play.
Fine-Tuning And Troubleshooting
In the final precision training stages, sharpness and responsiveness are honed to a razor’s edge. Trainers scrutinize for inconsistencies across different riders or fields that could compromise tournament performance. They’ll focus special drills on problem areas like wayward neck reining or unbalanced turns. Speed and pacing deficiencies get addressed too, potentially needing more targeted conditioning. Some horses may struggle with anxiety so simulation intensities are calibrated to find their high-performance sweet spot. The goal is consistency regardless of rider or environmental stimuli. Competing at the elite levels requires split second decision making – horses must understand cues intuitively and execute flawlessly. So trainers keep fine-tuning until all instructions translate fluidly across all game situations.
Ongoing Training And Conditioning
Even after initial polo training finishes, horses require careful ongoing conditioning and skills maintenance tailored to each competition season. Usually after a short rest period, buildup starts months ahead of tournaments, slowly elevating distances, speeds and drill intensities each week. Trainers constantly assess if current regimens align to performance benchmarks and adjust as needed. Horses get regular injury checkups, chiropractic and massage therapies to keep supporting musculoskeletal tissues supple under heavy demands. Rider practice maintains cue response sharpness. And horses are always monitored for behavior changes suggesting physical or mental strain. While foundations are established early on, polo horses actually train nearly year round sustaining the elite responsiveness, athleticism and work ethic competitive polo necessitates.
Preparing For Tournaments And Matches
In the weeks just before and during polo tournaments, training shifts emphasis from skill building to optimization and injury prevention. More “open”low-contact drills maintain conditioning while allowing muscles and joints recovery time. Horses get very light work a few days pre-competition. Arriving early, trainers choose when each horse plays based on niche strengths, opponent weaknesses and pacing strategies across multiple chukkers. Braiding manes and tail treads helps prevent entanglement injuries. Wrapping ankles, icing soreness and using cooling blankets post-match helps too. While prep work establishes the foundation, tournament performance really comes down to refined coaching decisions maximizing each horse’s capabilities. This is what ultimately gives teams the winning edge.