Snow polo, where did it all begin?

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by Marcin

As the snow piles up on many fields around the world, some players begin to switch to Arena Polo to get their “polo fix” during the winter time. Others take a well deserved rest after an intense season. While the luckiest among us are still enjoying polo somewhere warm…

There’s also a small group that opts in for another exciting, less common alternative – snow polo.

So what’s snow polo all about? Where did it all begin?

St. Moritz snow polo field ready for the game ©Tony Ramirez/www.imagesofpolo.com

Let’s start with a short story, which takes us back to the 1980s — to the frozen surface of lake St. Moritz in Engadin, Switzerland. Where a few adventurous Swiss had at the time the “crazy idea” to play polo in spite of weather.

But great ideas often have an element of madness, once said Reto Gaudenzi, the founder and CEO of Snow Polo World Cup in St. Moritz. Horses had to be transported by train over the mountains the logistics of a polo tournament in the Alps were vast.

Yet despite odds, St. Moritz hosted the first snow polo tournament in 1985. Before dedicating himself to snow polo, Gaudenzi started the first Swiss polo team and soon was called captain to the Swiss national polo team. St. Moritz turned out an incredible spectacle of sport and continues to be till this day.

Other tournaments soon sprung up globally, from the french Snow Polo Masters in Megeve to Austria, USA, Russia, and — as yet Asia’s only snow polo tournament   — Tianjin, China. Many are now held annually.

How does it compare to traditional polo? Besides the snow of course…

Crowd at St. Moritz Snow Polo Tournament in 2017  ©fotoswiss.com/giancarlo cattaneo

In the gist of it, snow polo rules aren’t very different from traditional polo. The main differences are in team and field sizes.

Teams are made up of three players (with the exception of St. Moritz: four players per team) each trying to drive a grapefruit-sized and brightly-colored ball across the field into the goalposts. One game lasts four 7-minute chukkas.

The field size can be anything between 150-180 meters in width and 230-275 meters in length, according to the PIPA Snow Polo World Cup Tour. Yet there is no one official size. Fields will vary based on location — the frozen lake of St. Moritz provides an 80 by 200 meters field and goal posts are placed 7.3 meters apart.

Another difference is the snow polo ball’s “personality.” The light weight of the ball allows stronger winds to give it a life of its own, often causing rapid changes of its direction.

As always, ponies are at the heart of the game! While there are many different theories on how to prepare and groom a horse for snow, one thing is true ponies need an extra degree of preparation in snow polo. But don’t we love to give them (extra) attention?!  

Polo string on the way to the game – St. Moritz polo pony grooming 🙂 ©BILDNACHWEIS: fotoSwiss.com/cattaneo

Many players and grooms will agree that proper preparation may take up to two months. Ponies require special training, clothes, and equipment to overcome the unfamiliar surface.  

Training is crucial for horses not only because of the freezing temperatures, but also for the pony to get used to the size and color of the (unusual) ball. Yet certain conditions such as the high altitude or thin air, require more time for ponies to get used to.

The usual attire is often replaced by fleece bandages around the ankles and boots in order to avoid injuries, while a special construction of the horseshoe helps with traction. Ponies also need some extra care after the game, such as getting covered with sweat sheets so they don’t catch a cold.

When it comes to grooming, here are some examples of a lot of extra attention and the latest pony fashion trends straight from St. Moritz 🙂

Snow polo may be a novelty kind of offspring from the main sport, but it’s a fun variety which gathers an energized community of male and female players in some of the most beautiful mountain resorts globally.

The dynamism and unpredictability of playing polo on snow create a must-see spectacle of winter and equine sports. Is it worth checking out, or even participating in? The answer is definitely yes!   

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