No archaeological finds or ancient manuscripts exist to help us trace the origin of the sport of polo. However, the available research locates the birthplace of this fascinating sport as Persia, in around 600 BC. From there, polo spread to northern India, where it is still cherished and held in high esteem. Initially the game was played at royal residences and in military circles. British army officers only discovered the game much later, around 1850, and took the sport back with them from the Orient to Europe and westwards.
The British first encountered the game then known as “pulu” in Manipur, eastern India. Their enthusiasm was so great that, from then on, members of the British army regularly played competitions against India. The popularity of polo led to the foundation of the first English polo club at Silchar, in 1859. This was followed by the Calcutta Polo Club, established in 1862 and now the oldest polo club in the world.
In 1873, the British founded the first club in their home country, the Hurlingham Polo Club, which was also the first club to establish written rules. In 1876, the sport reached America, where James Gordon Bennett founded the Westchester Polo Club in Newport, Rhode Island.
The Americans soon took a fancy to the game, and asked the British to draw up rules of play. The Hurlingham Club rules then became the norm. Later it was the Americans who decided to introduce handicap rules for players. In 1910 the British and Indians recognised this American system.
English ranchers took polo to South America, where the new sport elicited keen interest, especially in the region of Buenos Aires. Cross-breeding of South American and British horses produced a strain which proved ideally suited to polo. Ponies of Argentinian stock are still considered ideal for polo. In the war years, the European polo scene lay dormant, while the Argentinians continued to add to their knowledge and skills. This led to Argentina’s world dominance in polo, which continues unchallenged to this day.
Nowadays polo is played on all continents, in over 50 countries. It is certainly the most exclusive sport to be played with a ball. All over the world, prestige tournaments are held which display the sport of polo at its best.