King of the One-Horse Sport
By Betsy Hickok
Polocrosse is similar to lacrosse except it may be more fun. It’s played on horseback. Known as the king of the one-horse sports, it’s unlike polo where a player has several horses available to play. In Polocrosse, only one horse can be played by a player per tournament. This requires excellent horsemanship, keeping your animal fit and playing safely to remain in the game.
Played internationally in countries all around the globe, it is an excellent family sport where several generations may play at levels from juniors for children, on through masters for the children’s grandparents. Grade levels progress from D level for beginners to A grade for the most advanced players. When players are not on the field they may well be umpiring a game, announcing play, scorekeeping or tending goal.
No particular breed of horse is required. Any horse, which is athletic, quick and level-headed is appropriate. Quarter horses and thoroughbreds are particularly well adapted to the sport. Young players often begin by playing on ponies.
Many of the players own their horses and bring them along. Strict rules about the use of tack, including riding crops, spurs and the type of bits used are enforced for the safety and well-being of the horses. A Western saddle with a large horn protruding from the center is not allowed as a player would be injured bending down to pick up the ball. The Australian stock saddle, a hybrid of English and Western saddles, is commonly used.
Each rider carries a polocrosse racquet in their dominant hand. The racquet is approximately three and one-half feet long and has a round head with a string net to catch and throw the ball, much like a lacrosse stick. The ball is about 4 inches across and made of dense foam rubber. It can be bounced, thrown or rolled during play. There are strict rules about proper racquet use: – wild swings, down hits, hitting your horse or other riders with the racquet are not allowed and stiff penalties are imposed for infractions.
Polocrosse has a relatively straightforward set of rules, which apply to all levels of play. The purpose is to first keep the horses safe, then keep the people safe and finally to make the game challenging.
Each team has two sections of three players each. A game is played in four chukkas, or play periods, each one is eight minutes long. The first section plays the first chukka, the second section plays the second chukka, the first section comes back for the third chukka and the second section returns for the last. The relatively small size of the playing field—about half of a polo or football field—makes the game quick, requiring an agile horse. Horses are able to rest, cool down and drink water between chukkas, which makes it possible to play with only one horse.
Each section has a number one, two and three player. The number one plays offense and scores goals, the number two plays midfield supporting play and the number three defends the goal.
Play begins on the sidelines at midfield with each section lining up in front of the umpire before the ball is thrown in. When the ball is thrown, all the players try to get it and play begins. Possession of the ball is all-important in this fast-moving sport, and it’s a real tussle, because players can push one another with their horses to cause a foul, up-hit a player’s racquet to dislodge the ball and run interference for a teammate.
Players may not “T-bone,” or cross in front of the line of play possibly causing a collision, ride too closely behind another player which could cause injury to the back end of the front horse or the front end of the horse in back. Again, it’s safety first, then play on.
When scoring a goal, only the one and three players are allowed in the end zone. There is a 10-yard semicircle at the goal posts. When scoring a goal the number one must be in the end zone but outside the semicircle. The number three can be anywhere in the end zone trying to defend the goal and block a score.
There are several polocrosse clubs in this region —Bay Area, Sugarloaf and Heartland. Tournaments are great fun, and you can go to the website of the American Polocrosse Association www.americanpolocrosse.org for a listing of tournaments in the area.
This is a great spectator sport, so bring a lawn chair and picnic to a tournament and watch all the fun and excitement. Feel free to approach players with questions about the game. If you’re a horse enthusiast, borrow a player’s racquet and ask them to throw the ball for you a bit (while on the ground) and see how it feels. You may just find your next horse activity obsession!
Betsy, a licensed clinical professional counselor, is a family therapist in Annapolis who also offers clients equine-assisted growth and learning. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org