Polo has evolved a great deal over the years. The game seems to have been invented in what today is Iran. Originally, there was actually a height limit for polo horses. Manipuri ponies at 13.2 hands in height were considered ideal for this sport for years. However, as it became more popular in the West, the conventions changed. Today, thoroughbreds and crosses are the most popular mounts for polo. The height requirements for horses ended in 1919.
The horses used in modern polo are referred to as “polo ponies.” They’re selected for their stamina, speed, and intelligence. Polo is fast-paced and involves sharp turns, so a great deal of skill is needed. Polo ponies must also enjoy the game. If a horse is uncomfortable with all the action, they’re not a safe mount during a match. In the modern game, players’ mounts are a range of heights. Most are closer to 16 hands in height than the original 13.2. The reason for this is that most of these horses are thoroughbreds.
Thoroughbreds are popular because of their combined strength and speed. In the US today, most polo ponies are at least 75% thoroughbred. In America, the most common cross is between a quarter horse and a thoroughbred. Another popular polo pony is the Argentine polo pony. Argentine polo ponies tend to cross between thoroughbreds and criollos. Criollos are workhorses. Their ability to turn quickly and work for hours on end is useful in a cross for a sport like polo.