The Real Stars of Polo – Polo Ponies

Fernando Arteaga | Miami

Fernando Arteaga prepared for a career in architecture and design, earning a bachelor’s degree in architecture and urbanism from Iberoamerican University in Mexico City, a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the Polytechnic University of Catalunya in Barcelona, and an MBA from Harvard University. He has worked with firms in Mexico City, New York, Chicago, Singapore, Dubai, and Miami, and currently serves as a principal and design director in the Miami, Florida offices of HKS. HKS is an international architecture and design firm with offices in 24 major cities worldwide. As an active sportsman outside the office, Fernando Arteaga enjoys skiing, scuba diving, and playing polo.

The object of polo, a team sport played on horseback, is to score goals by hitting a ball with a long-handled mallet through a pair of goalposts on a 300-yard field, while preventing the opposing team from scoring goals. There are four riders to a side, and the game is played in periods of 7.5 minutes called chukkas. Riders typically change mounts after each chukka, and each player thus brings several horses to a match.

Although the riders hit the ball and score the goals, it’s the ponies who are the real stars in this fast-moving sport. The consensus among the sport’s afficionados and experienced players is that the pony contributes up to 75 percent of the value of the player-pony duo, meaning the pony makes the player, not the other way around. They’re not really ponies, but full-grown horses chosen for their speed, agility, and intelligence. Although they’re not necessarily of any specific breed or bloodline, most good polo ponies are three-quarters or more Thoroughbred. They gallop throughout the chukka, following the ball and responding to the rider’s instructions, sometimes turning 180 degrees at full gallop.

Training for polo ponies generally starts around age 3 and can last for two or more years. Polo ponies are generally used exclusively in the sport until they retire, often in their late teens or early 20s. Many retired polo ponies go to live on breeding farms, or to horse-loving families as pets.

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