Polo Lesson Video

Learn polo basics in a polo lesson video we filmed in Virginia Hunt Country with Doug Barnes, a pro polo player.

by Darley Newman

If you ever wanted to try polo, but wondered where to get a string of polo ponies, signing up for a polo lesson is a good place to start. In Virginia Hunt Country, just outside of Washington DC, I got paired up with a well-trained polo pony for a lesson in the basics with polo pro Doug Barnes.

Watch this video of polo 101 to learn polo terminology. Learn how to hold your mallet, the back shot, what a "bowl in" means, nearside, offside and more. See what you might experience in a polo lesson.


Polo Video Transcript

Nearside, Offside and other Polo Terminology

Doug Barnes, pro polo player with Destination Polo: In polo there are two sides to a horse. There’s a left side and a right side. All right? But we don’t call it that because they like to have different terms for it.

So, the left side in polo is termed the nearside, and the right side is the offside. So this is the left side, which is the nearside, and your right side is the offside.

How to Hold the Mallet

Doug Barnes: You want to hold the mallet with a nice relaxed grip–– like a tennis grip. Just open your fingers. We’re going to put the palm up. You’re going to put the mallet on your thumb. Put the strap on your thumb with your palm up. You’re going to wrap the strap around the back of your hand, and then you’re going to grip the mallet so you can read the initials.

One of the reasons that we wrap it around the thumb is a safety issue. If the mallet gets hung up in the reins, a tail, somebody else hooks your mallet and it pulls it off, it’ll come right off your hand. If you wrap if around your hand, you’re going to go with it, so we’d rather keep you guys on the horse instead of getting dragged around.

And we hit the ball with the side of the mallet.

Darley Newman: So it’s with the side, not with the...

Doug Barnes: Right, it’s with the side, not with the end. If you could do it with the end you would be stellar. All right? Save the end for croquet. So with each side you’ve got six different shots. So effectively you could hit the ball 360 degrees.

Back Shot

Doug Barnes: We’re going to do a back shot, and the back shot is just the same as the forward shot, but backwards–– nothing complicated about that. What we’re going to do is we’re going to put the horse right here and put the ball in the same spot, as when you want to hit the ball going forward, but this time, we’re going to put the hand going forward and then when you drop it, you’re just going to swing through. Hit the ball backwards and then continue going up with your mallet. All right? Very easy. Okay, let’s see it.

Darley: Okay. The trick shot.

Doug Barnes: The trick shot. Mallet forward. Back through. Backwards.

Darley: Sort of.

Doug Barnes: Let’s try it again. Okay, mallet forward. Swing through the ball. Good.

In between shots we’re going to put the mallet in rest position, so just rest it on your shoulder. It makes it a lot easier to get through a lesson without a sore arm. All right, mallets back up in the air.

Bowl In

Doug Barnes: In polo when you start every game or after every goal, the way you start is a bowl in from the center of the field. You line up in a straight line. The empire comes to the middle, and he throws the ball in.

You guys have either A) just enough to get you in trouble, or B) just enough to get you through the first game of your life. All right, ready? I’m going to start the game.

Darley: Okay.

Doug Barnes: Play!

Darley: Sooo, okay.

Doug Barnes: Good, Krista’s going for it. Good! Nice and easy Joe. Good, you, Karina.

Darley: I had imagined our group racing up and down the field, sort of like Prince William, but our group was a bit slower.

Darley: How ya doing there Diane.

Diane: Not as good as I thought.

Darley: Well that’s ok.

Diane: Let’s keep trying.

Darley: This polo thing requires a lot of coordination. A few of us do score points though.

Darley: Wow! Score!

Doug Barnes: Excellent. Good! Chukka! Excellent.

Darley: While you won’t see me playing with the pros anytime soon, I did learn a lot during my first polo lesson and certainly will appreciate the skills of the pros during my next spectator event.

Polo Lesson

How You Can Learn to Play Polo

If you’re in the DC area, there are several polo schools that take give lessons to all levels of riders, even complete novices. In the above video, I took a lesson at Destination Polo with Doug Barnes. 

Another option for polo lessons in the DC area is www.playpoloindc.com.

If you live elsewhere, the US Polo Association is a resource for both polo lessons and to find out where you can watch a polo match in your area or try summer polo clinics and camps.