Gladiator Polo is about to return to its birthplace of Wellington after a successful summer series in North Carolina. The concept originated in the heart of Wellington last January as a way to expand the reach of equestrian sports to fans of action-packed sports like hockey and football.
Gladiator Polo combines elements of both field polo and arena polo, and in just under a year has garnered both a national and international following.
Unlike traditional equestrian competitions, where audience participation is encouraged only before and after a rider competes, Gladiator Polo is fueled by a rowdy crowd. Spectators are encouraged to cheer on their favorite team throughout the match.
Two teams of three players are pitted against each other in a small, enclosed arena, giving spectators an up close and personal look at the action, similar to sitting on the boards at an ice hockey game.
In this Roman-era themed event, horse and rider teams wear distinctive colors covering the players’ helmets all the way down to the horses’ leg wraps, making it easy for spectators to follow the game and cheer on their favorite side.
“We have been thrilled with the support and engagement of the fans and spectators surrounding Gladiator Polo this year at the Tryon International Equestrian Center and have been thoroughly impressed with the level of play we’ve seen across the board from each of the participating players,” said Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of the International Equestrian Group, management entity of Gladiator Polo. “Our goal is to expand this game on both a national and international level. We feel that these players and this atmosphere translates well anywhere in the world. We’re looking forward to the future of this game and are already planning the return of the series to this venue in 2018.”
The match is played on a 300-foot by 150-foot space, enclosed by walls of four or more feet in height. The game consists of six chukkers of five minutes each. Riders change horses at the end of each chukker. Gladiator Polo does not require the large number of horses to play that outdoor grass polo demands, making game participation easier for players.
The game ball is similar to a mini soccer ball, larger than the small and hard plastic ball used outdoors. While the larger size gives the new player confidence in learning to hit the ball, proper technique is still necessary, since the game is played on a dirt surface with the ball bouncing on the uneven surface and off the arena wall.
Gladiator Polo can be played either indoors or outdoors, day or night under lights and weather permitting, all year round. In its inaugural season, Gladiator Polo hosted seven games in Wellington, hosting four teams and offering over $250,000 in prize money. It then continued throughout the summer at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, N.C.
The Battle for the Carolinas series consisted of four matches with four teams of professional polo players. Presented by Coca-Cola, the series awarded $120,000 in prize money and was witnessed by more than 30,000 spectators. Fans enjoyed entertainment before the match with a player meet and greet, a live band, kid gladiator games and an authentic Argentine asado buffet for dinner.
“We wanted to create a concept that will re-energize polo in this country, and ultimately bring new participants, spectators and sponsors into the sport,” Bellissimo said. “We are excited to launch this exhilarating sports initiative, highlighting the tenacity and speed of polo in an engaging and spectator-fueled atmosphere, and look forward to growing the sport over the next year.”
Gladiator Polo will resume in Wellington in January 2018, featuring 13 league games and concluding with a series final in April, with an official schedule planned for announcement in November. Plans for the return of Gladiator Polo to the Tryon International Equestrian Center and additional locations will be announced in early 2018. For more info, visit www.gladiatorpolo.com.