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Man-Line-Ball...Winning the Ride Off

Winning the Ride Off
Winning the Ride Off

In polo there are generally only two defensive moves a player can use when confronting an opponent one on one: hooking and riding off. Riding off, bumping, taking your man, however it’s called is one of the most important moves on the polo field. If you’ve been around polo for any length of time you’ve heard the old adage: “Man-Line-Ball”, ranking the level of importance on the polo field. First you take your man, then take the line, then the ball hence the ride off needs careful consideration.

There are inherent risks when one facing moving objects collides with another, and doing it incorrectly can result in serious injury to both horses and riders. Perhaps a flaw in polo strategy is after a throw-in, when the play spreads out, you will often find the most inexperienced player guarding the most experienced player on the opposite team.

The 2012 outdoor rule book states:

“On even terms, a player may ride off an opponent or may interpose the player’s mount between an opponent and the ball, but may not ride dangerously…The following factors, among others, should be taken into consideration:

  1. Relative speeds of the two mounts. It is very dangerous to ride off an opponent if you are not moving at approximately the same speed whether it be fast or slow.
  2. Relative sizes of the two mounts.
  3. Relative positions of the two mounts. It is dangerous if either mount is more than a foot or two ahead of or behind the other.
  4. The angle at which the mounts converge. At high speeds, angles which might be safe at slower speeds become extremely dangerous.
  5. States of exhaustion of the mounts involved.
  6. Lack of readiness of an opponent for the ride off (blind-siding).

Riding off can be done in a more efficient, effective and safe way that will certainly not lessen the quality of play. As mentioned in the USPA rule book, matching your opponent’s speed and going in at a safe angle are crucial, but there are other techniques that will help you will the ride off:

  • Keep your outside leg well behind the girth and rhythmically nudge your horse with your heel. Your reins will obviously direct the horse’s upper body towards your opponent, but the weight of the rest of the body wins the ride off.
  • Do not throw your weight into your opponent with your shoulder or upper body. This will only help to throw your horse off balance, and he will spend his energy trying to stay upright instead of pushing into another horse.
  • Do not throw elbows, your rein hand, or your shoulder into your opponent.
  • What I find helpful is rotating in the saddle to give the other rider my back. This keeps the horse balanced and neutralizes the other rider.
  • Switch your horse’s lead at the canter to the side on which you will make impact. For example, if your opponent is on the left side of you, switch your horse’s lead to the left lead. When a horse goes around a corner, he will naturally switch so that his inside leg reaches farther forward than the outside one. This lengthens the inside of the horse’s body, and provides a more stable foundation while leaning weight into the turn. A horse will lean his body weight into a ride off, just the same as a turn. Being on the inside lead will stabilize the horse, give him more pushing power and put you at a tactical advantage. If at all possible, switch leads just before contact. The momentum of the horse shifting weight is sometimes all you need to win the ride-off.

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Photographic Credits go to Jessica Patterson Photography