Journal of equine veterinary science2021; 98; 103368; doi: 10.1016/j.jevs.2020.103368

External Loading Characteristics of Polo Ponies and Corresponding Player Heart Rate Responses in 16-Goal Polo.

Abstract: When compared with other equestrian sports, Polo players engage in a high number of player-pony interactions. To ensure optimal performance of the player-pony dyad, an understanding of the workloads performed by each pony and the physiological cost placed on the rider are required. This investigation examined the relationship and interaction between Polo pony performance (speeds attained, distance covered, and movements performed) and the corresponding heart rate responses in Polo players, within and between games across a 16-goal Polo tournament. Descriptive statistics revealed Polo is played at an intensity that imposes considerable cardiovascular exertion, with players' average heart rate (HR) and maximum heart rate (HR) frequently exceeding 165 bpm and 200 bpm, respectively, within most games. Data also demonstrated that both HR and HR have small to moderate relationships (P < .05) with numerous discrete measures of pony external workload, especially, pony accelerations, decelerations, impacts, and sprints. These findings highlight the chukka and game-specific interactions between pony actions and the players' cardiovascular responses to these movements. If the cardiovascular conditioning of the player is insufficient to meet the demands of Polo play, the combined performance of the player-pony dyad may be limited.
Publication Date: 2021-01-07 PubMed ID: 33663720DOI: 10.1016/j.jevs.2020.103368Google Scholar: Lookup
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The research explored the effort exerted by polo ponies and the correlating heart rate responses of the players in a 16-goal polo tournament. It found a significant cardiovascular exertion in players, showing a link to various measures of pony workload, thereby implying the important role of a player’s cardiovascular conditioning for optimal performance.

Understanding the Research

  • The research aimed to understand the polo pony’s workload and the corresponding impact on the polo player, a dynamic referred to as the player-pony dyad. This understanding is important to ensure optimal performance in the sport of polo.
  • The researchers studied various factors, like the speeds attained by the pony, the distance covered, and the different movements performed, to assess the pony’s performance. They then reviewed the relationship between these factors and the heart rate of the players.

Results of the Research

  • Findings from the research suggested that polo is a high-intensity sport resulting in substantial cardiovascular exertion from the players. Both the average and maximum heart rate of players within games regularly exceeded the 165 beats per minute (bpm) and 200 bpm marks, respectively.
  • While data showed that the heart rate measures had a ‘small to moderate’ correlation with several isolated measures of pony workload, the relationship was most noticeable with pony accelerations, decelerations, impacts, and sprints. This indicates a significant interaction between the activity of the animal and the physiological response of the rider.

Implications of the Research

  • The findings underscore the need for cardiovascular conditioning for polo players. If a player’s cardiovascular health is not adequate to cope with the demands of polo gameplay, it might limit the combined performance of the player-pony dyad. In other words, if a player cannot maintain their heart rate or recover quickly from high heart rate incidents caused by the fast-paced nature of polo, it may negatively affect both the player and the pony’s performance in the game.

In conclusion, this research contributes to the understanding of the physical demands of the sport of polo on its two key players—human and equine. It suggests that focusing on a player’s cardiovascular fitness could elevate the overall performance of the player-pony pair during gameplay.

Cite This Article

Best R, Standing R. (2021). External Loading Characteristics of Polo Ponies and Corresponding Player Heart Rate Responses in 16-Goal Polo. J Equine Vet Sci, 98, 103368.


ISSN: 0737-0806
NlmUniqueID: 8216840
Country: United States
Language: English
Volume: 98
Pages: 103368
PII: S0737-0806(20)30459-7

Researcher Affiliations

Best, Russ
  • Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance, Waikato Institute of Technology, Hamilton, New Zealand. Electronic address:
Standing, Regan
  • Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance, Waikato Institute of Technology, Hamilton, New Zealand.

MeSH Terms

  • Acceleration
  • Animals
  • Goals
  • Heart Rate
  • Horses
  • Movement
  • Sports


This article has been cited 1 times.
  1. Best R. The player-pony dyad in Polo: lessons from other sports and future directions.. Anim Front 2022 Jun;12(3):54-58.
    doi: 10.1093/af/vfac003pubmed: 35711510google scholar: lookup