Usually, a polo match is divided into 4 to 6 periods called chukkers. Each of these is 7.5 minutes long and at 7 minutes you will hear a warning bell before the final bell rings once more at the end of each chukker.
However, if a team scores after the 7 minutes warning bell, or if the ball touches the sideboards of the polo field, the chukker ends immediately. Since a chukker is rather tiring for the horses, the players have 4 minutes between the chukkers to switch horses. On a very hot day, some players may even change their horses during active play.
Sir Winston Churchill once stated: “A polo handicap is your passport to the world.” Considering that polo is played all around the globe and it is not uncommon for top players to travel with their horses to different countries, he was certainly right. The polo handicap was invented by Henry Lloyd Herbert, the first president of the US Polo Association, in 1890. The idea behind this rating system was to match teams more evenly when pairing players of varying skill levels. A player’s handicap is determined by a number of factors like sportsmanship, team play, scoring, knowledge of polo, strategy and horsemanship.
A polo field is usually 200 yards wide by 300 yards long and the goals are 8 yards wide. In order to score a point, a player must hit the plastic ball between the goal posts – it does not matter how high or low the ball is. Interestingly, after each goal, the game is resumed from the middle, but the teams switch directions and aim for the opposite goal. To ensure fair play, two mounted referees – so-called umpires – are on the field as well, and a “third man” is located near the middle of the polo field to make decisions in case an umpire made a questionable call. Once a foul occurs, the umpire blows the whistle, which stops the clock. There are several lines on the field indicating where midfield, 60, 40 and 30 yard penalties are taken from.