The oldest team sport, the exact origin of polo is unknown. Polo was probably first played by nomadic warriors over two thousand years ago.
The first recorded game took place in 600 BC, between the Turkomans and Persians (the Turkomans won). In the 4th century AD King Sapoor II of Persia learned to play, aged 7. In the 16th century AD a polo ground (300 yards long and with goal posts 8 yards apart) was built at Ispahan, then the capital, by Shah Abbas the Great.
The Moguls were largely responsible for taking the game from Persia to the east, and by the 16th century the Emperor Babur had established it in India. (It had already long been played in China and Japan, but had died out by the time the west came in contact with those countries).
In the 1850s British tea planters discovered the game in Manipur (Munipoor) on the Burmese border with India. The first polo club in the world was formed by them at Silchar, west of Manipur. Other clubs followed and, today, the oldest in the world is the Calcutta Club, founded in 1862.
Malta followed in 1868, due to soldiers and Naval officers stopping off there on their way home from India. In 1869 Edward "Chicken" Hartopp, 10th Hussars, read an account of the game in The Field, while stationed at Aldershot, and with brother officers organised the first game - known then as "hockey on horseback" on a hastily-rolled Hounslow Heath. He drew up a short list of 9 or 10 rules; but it was John Watson (1856 - 1908), 13th Hussars, who formulated the first real rules of the game in India in the 1870s. He later formed the celebrated Freebooters team - who won the first Westchester Cup match in 1886 - and was a foremost player in the All Ireland Polo Club, founded in 1872 by Horace Rochfort of Clogrenane, Co. Carlow.
The first polo club in England was Monmouthshire, founded in 1872 by Capt. Francis "Tip" Herbert (1845 - 1922), 7th Lancers, at his brother's seat, Clytha Park, near Abergavenny. Others, including Hurlingham, followed quickly. Handicaps were introduced by the U.S.A. in 1888 and by England and India in 1910.
The first official match in Argentina took place on 3rd September 1875, where the game had been taken by English and Irish engineers and ranchers. In 1876 Lt. Col. Thomas St. Quintin, 10th Hussars, introduced the game to Australia - he was the "Father of Australian Polo" and two of his brothers stayed on there as ranchers and helped the game to develop. In the same year, polo was introduced to the U.S.A. by James Gordon Bennett Jr, who had seen the game at Hurlingham while on a visit to England.
Today, upwards of 77 countries play polo. It was an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1939 and has now been recognised again by the International Olympic Committee.
R. Chatterton Newman