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What makes a good polo pony

Polo is one of the oldest team sports that began as an opportunity to showcase the Manipuri Pony: a formidable war horse and a sacred creature. Today, the Manipuri Pony is considered endangered, but their best qualities have been passed down to the modern polo pony. The perfect pony is hard to find, but “having a good horse is one of the most important aspects in the game…it’s like racing a car, if you don’t have a good car, you don’t race well”, says American polo player Matt Coppola.

Horse Power

“I love a horse with a lot of power,” says Coppola. During a polo match, horses consistently play at their top speed of around 40 miles per hour to keep up with the fast paced competition. Although many professional players have a fresh horse for each chukka of the match, some of the best ponies often start the match and end the match, which requires incredible strength and stamina.

When the game of polo first started, there were no chukkas and no time limit at all, but instead an agreed upon number of goals. This design was meant to display the incredible strength of the Manipuri Pony. With strong quarters, a compact body, and broad nostrils, the Manipuri pony was built to have power that would last. These favored characteristics now appear in the best modern day polo ponies. 

Fast Turns

Having a powerful pony is important, but being able to use that power for more than galloping is essential. Polo is not played at a constant gallop and requires quick maneuvering, which means players like Coppola prefer “a horse that turns fast” and “has a really good mouth”. When a horse “has a good mouth”, this means the horse is highly sensitive to any queues given through the reins. Rather than putting all of one’s energy into turning a galloping horse, a horse with a good mouth will turn from a gentle touch on the reins, while remaining balanced. This quality is the foundation behind many necessary skills in polo, including the ability to stop.

Great Stops

The ability to “stop on a dime”, says Coppola, cannot be underestimated. The sport of polo takes incredible finesse that requires stopping for the perfect shot and stopping to defend these shots. Although this skill requires a good mouth and horsepower, it also takes a horse that is built for the pressure these movements create. Therefore, the best players know to look for horses with the breed characteristics of the Manipuri Pony: healthy knees, strong bone density, and tough feet. Horses with strong knees and hocks allow the pony to have enough power for a sudden stop, while protecting their joints and ligaments from any damage. Selecting these characteristics will not only help a rider become the best they can be, but also preserves the health of the horse and their enjoyment of the game.

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