The game of polo is frequently called “hockey on horseback.” Both games use sticks to hit a ball (or puck) through a goal. “Hockey on horseback” has been cited in print since the book Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo, the countries adjoining the mountain-course of the Indus and the Himalaya, North of the Panjab (1842), by Godfrey Thomas Vigne (1801-1863). Other writers (at least as early as 1852) credited Vigne for the “hockey on horseback” term.
Polo (Persian: چوگان, chowgan) is a team sport played on horseback in which the objective is to score goals against an opposing team. Sometimes called, “The Sport of Kings”, it was highly popularised by the British. Players score by driving a small white plastic or wooden ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet. The traditional sport of polo is played at speed on a large grass field up to 300 yards long by 160 yards wide, and each polo team consists of four riders and their mounts. Field polo is played with a solid plastic ball, which has replaced the wooden ball in much of the sport. In arena polo, only three players are required per team and the game usually involves more maneuvering and shorter plays at lower speeds due to space limitations of the arena. Arena polo is played with a small air-filled ball, similar to a small soccer ball. The modern game lasts roughly two hours and is divided into periods called chukkers. Polo is played professionally in 16 countries. It was formerly, but is not currently, an Olympic sport.
Travels in Kashmir, Ladak, Iskardo, the countries adjoining the mountain-course of the Indus and the Himalaya, North of the Panjab
By Godfrey Thomas Vigne
London: Henry Colburn
I was told, also, that it contained a chaughan or field, where the game of that name (hockey on horseback) was played, as I have seen it played in Tibet.
Western Himalaya and Tibet;
A narrative of a journey through the mountains of northern India, during the years 1847-8
By Thomas Thomson
London: Reeve and Co.
I was thus fortunate enough to be a witness of the national game of the Chaugan, which is derived from Persia, and has been described by Mr. Vigne as hockey on horseback, a definition so exact, as to render a further detail unnecessary.
Comprising botanical and vernacular names, and uses of most of the trees, shrubs and herbs of economical value growing within the Province: intended as a handbook for officers and residents in the Punjab
By J. Lindsay Stewart
Lahore: Government Press
In Ladak where wood is scarce, this is used for the handles of the sticks for polo, hockey on horseback.
November 1870, “The Field” Quarterly Magazine and Review, pg. 333:
HOCKEY ON HORSEBACK
“CHANGAN” (a Persian word signifying a game of ball played on horseback), or hockey on horseback, has only of late years come into vogue amongst Europeans in India.
October 1876, Wallace’s Monthly, “Origin of Polo,” pg. 416:
By the Anglo-Indians it is called “hockey,” and by some “hockey on horseback,” in contradistinction to the English game of hockey on foot; but there is really no necessity for such a distinction, as hockey on foot is a game never played in India. We admit we are ignorant as to the origin of the name “Polo.” “Hockey on horseback” is too long a name, and “polo” (whatever it may mean) answers the purpose as well as any other name—perhaps more so, as there is often a good deal of falling and rolling connected with the game, which gives it a somewhat “roly-poly” character.
June 1879, The Popular Science Monthly, “The History of Games” by Edward B. Tylor, pg. 229:
We should not talk of polo as being “ hockey on horseback,” but rather regard hockey as dismounted polo, and class with it pall-mall, golf, and many another bat-and-ball game.
March 1884, Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, “The History of Games,” pg. 359:
We should not talk of polo as being “hockey on horseback, “ but rather regard hockey as dismounted polo, and class with it pall-mall, golf, and many another bat-and-ball game.
April 8, 2012 7:57 PM
The Sport of Kings: Polo
The following script is from “The Sport of Kings” which originally aired on April 8, 2012. Lara Logan is the correspondent. Max McClellan, producer.
Polo is called the sport of kings and for centuries its drawn royalty to its ranks. In the minds of many, the game has always belonged to the rich, the famous, and the privileged few. But there’s more to the sport than the glamorous world that surrounds it.
Many people describe polo as hockey on horseback. Nacho told us it’s more like playing golf in an earthquake.