Winter Warrior

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Q: What's the Deal With Snow Polo?

What are the key differences between polo played on a regular field and polo played on the snow—and how does it affect the horses?

By: Question from: The Editors, Santa Fe, NM
Photo: Courtesy of the World Snow Polo Championships

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A:

You bet, although “it's an exhibition type of thing—there are only a few tournaments a year in a couple of different places,” explains Pam Gleason, editor and publisher of The Aiken Horse. “The snow polo tradition is definitely growing, but it isn't something that anyone considers their primary sport; they are polo players who try snow polo as a lark.”

Here’s some background: Snow polo—a modified version of regular polo—was officially introduced in 1985 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, but it’s also quite popular in Aspen, Colorado. In fact, in 2012, the Roaring Fork Valley was home to the 13th annual USPA World Snow Polo Championship, the only snow polo tournament sanctioned by the United States Polo Association.

Barry Stout, local rancher and founder of the Roaring Fork Polo Club, helped organize the event, which is held annually on a small, snow-packed arena. “You have to condition the horses to running in the snow,” he told the Aspen Times. “They need to get used to the movement of breaking through the snow surface, sort of like post-holing. We work the horses in the snow to get them accustomed to that feeling and to build up their tendons.”

Special horseshoes also help; cogs create traction, and a rubber lining around the inside prevents slow clumping. Horses’ ankles are wrapped with fleece bandages and tendon boots to protect them from injuries, which often result from tight turns in the small field. Special care is taken off the pitch, too. “We use sweat sheets—not blankets—to put on a hot horse coming off the field,” Stout explains. “The lighter sheets let the horses cool down slowly, instead of keeping them hot and sweaty the way normal winter horse blankets would.”

The grapefruit-sized ball is also designed for snow play; its bright red color makes it easy to see, but—because it’s lightweight, inflatable vinyl rather than hard plastic—it’s less predictable than a standard polo ball. Games consist of four 7 1/2-minute chukkers, or periods. Players (three per team) change horses after each one. Like normal polo, the basic idea is for Team A to drive the ball down the field and into Team B’s goal, using mallets.

Curious for more? The St. Moritz Polo World Cup is this weekend (January 24-27) on the frozen Lake St. Moritz. Five thousand miles east, the 2013 Fortune Heights Snow Polo World Cup 2013 takes place January 25 to February 3 at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in China. Twelve nations, including the U.S., will participate in the International Federation of Polo event.

If you can’t make it to China or Switzerland, check out some of the action on YouTube. Tally ho!

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