The term polo pony is used to describe all horses involved in the sport. Because the polo ponies are athletes and work very hard during the each play of the game, each horse is restricted to participating in no more than two periods of the game.
The United States Polo Association is very concerned for the welfare of all polo ponies. The USPA Equine Welfare Committee was formed in 1992 to review and monitor the welfare of all horses that participate in the sport. Each sanctioned USPA event has an official Equine Welfare Representative present to ensure the proper handling and safety of the polo ponies.
In 2009, the 21 member committee implemented the United States Polo Association Equine Drugs and Medication Program. As a result, several rules and procedures exist to protect the horses used in the sport.
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Conditioning of the Horse
All polo ponies must be properly conditioned by their trainers to play the rigorous sport of polo. A horse that is well conditioned can withstand the work required to play. Any horse that shows signs of laboured breathing, lameness, excessive sweating or other signs of exhaustion is considered to be not properly conditioned. The umpire has the right to remove any horse from the chukker, or the entire game, if the horse shows signs of improper conditioning.
Proper Conduct of Polo Ponies
Polo ponies are expected to be free from vice to help keep the game safe for horse and riders alike. Any horse that shows signs of aggression, including biting or kicking at other players or mounts, is removed from the game at the umpire's discretion.
While the aid of a whip is common practice for many riders, abuse of any kind is not tolerated in a polo match. The official rules for the United States Polo Association state that excessive whipping includes loud or repeated strokes with the whip, striking a horse more than three times while it is running, and any whipping following a missed play. Horses that have any blood on their body or mouth are immediately removed from the game, and the umpire may issue penalties.
Drug Use in Polo Ponies
Since the introduction of the United States Polo Association Equine Drugs and Medication Program in 2009, all horses are subject to drug testing before the start of a game. Punishments for horses that test positive to blood or urine drug screening can result in the owner and rider losing their USPA memberships and being banned from any future games.
Equipment Requirements and Limitations
All polo ponies must have their front legs properly bandaged to protect them from injury. The United States Polo Association also recommends bandaging the back legs. Certain types of shoes, including any shoes with an outer rim or toe grab are banned from use in the game.
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