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4 Extreme Types of Polo: Elephant Polo And More



Polo was first played in Persia (Iran) somewhere between the 6th century BC and the 1st century AD. Yes, polo is seriously old. The classic, original version of the game, which resembles croquet on horseback, hogs the limelight. The sport, however, has also evolved and diversified into all kinds of weird and testing versions. Here are 4 extreme types of polo.

Elephant Polo

Unlike some of the other types of polo featured here, elephant polo, or “ele polo,” is organized – it has its own vocal sporting association. “Ele Polo is a sport which has always punched above its weight and a sport that is fondly known as the biggest sport in the world,” says The World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA). Ele polo’s rules are bizarre, but practical. One is simply that no elephant may lie in a goal mouth – presumably because, in that scenario, no matter how craftily an attacker chipped the ball he could not get it past the pachyderm’s bulk. Conversely, an elephant may not pick up the ball in its trunk, presumably because it could then walk up to the goal and fling the ball through it from point-blank range. The insane game is played in Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India. Gear consists of a standard polo ball and six to ten foot cane sticks with mallet heads. In an echo of moto-polo, two people ride each elephant. The “mahout” steers while the player tells the mahout which way to go and does the striking.


The New York Times has described moto-polo as, “a lot like polo, only faster and with beer.” Motorcycles also enter the picture for a simple reason: Rwanda has far more of them than horses. Moto-polo teams consist of five players, each with a driver. The game is divvied into 15-minute quarters with beer breaks between. Play unfolds at a furious pace with bikes zipping around at an insane 45 mph, meaning multiple spills, not that the bikers care. “I play with no fear,” Chameleon Ngirimana, who is widely seen as one of the sport’s best players, told the Times. How Ngirimana or anyone even gets close to striking the banana-leaf ball is a mystery. The manic, petrol-head action sport has just a smattering of gritty rules. One forbids participants from using their feet to kick the ball. Another forbids participants from sticking objects into motorcycle wheels. Not that anyone does. Moto-polo is surprisingly chivalrous. It arose in 2011 when the first ever moto-polo match, staged in Uganda, also served as a fund-raiser to help pay the legal fees of Ugandan women sexually trafficked to Iraq.

Snow Polo

Like elephant polo, snow polo is surprisingly organized. It is also well-funded, judging by all the branding on the Polo World Cup On Snow site. This year, at the St. Moritz Polo World Cup On Snow, among other highlights the largely British Cartier side claimed a trophy named after a swish hotel, beating the Salomon Oppenheim side on the frozen lake, 6-5. Toward the end, with both teams fighting for the win, penalties kept coming “thick and fast.” After a goalmouth scrum, the ball rebounded off a pony and went in. According to the clothing maker Hackett, snow polo ranks as one of the riskiest forms of the sport. No surprise there, but snow polo also sounds like a blast and seems to be thriving. Although first conceived in 1959, the sport only launched officially in 1985 when the first match happened on the frozen surface of Lake St. Moritz in Switzerland. That first game lured just 1,000 spectators. Since then, the sport has exploded. It is played in at least 10 countries, and the inaugural Snow Polo World Cup 2012 was held at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club.

Bicycle Polo

Bicycle polo is just what it sounds like: a team sport similar to mainstream polo, except that you are whizzing about on a bike. Participants compete in teams of seven or so. The offbeat sport first surfaced in County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1891, concocted by retired cyclist, Richard J. Mecredy. The sport then flirted with the mainstream when it appeared as a demonstration sport at the 1908 Olympic Games. Today, the “traditional” form of bicycle polo is held on a grass field. A three-a-side hard-court variant, however, is gaining popularity. The hard-court kind, sometimes called “urban bike polo,” is played on a tennis court or basketball court, using a street hockey ball. Fast, sparse and intense, urban bike polo allows no substitutions. All competitors are on-court all the time. It sounds like bedlam, but apparently the first time you score a legitimate goal, you’re hooked.

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