Horse Show and Polo Etiquette

All you need to know, from what to wear to the art of the divot stomp
By Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.
November 5, 2021 Updated: November 5, 2021

Horse shows and polo matches are exciting, high-energy events. But if you’ve never attended such an event, how do you know how to behave and what to wear? Your “polite society” guide has the answers.

What to Expect

Spectators at horse shows are often seated in stadium seats located above and a fair distance away from the ring. Binoculars may be needed to watch horses and riders as they go through their paces.

Those attending a polo match may be seated on picnic blankets on the sidelines, feeling the breeze as the horses—referred to as ponies—gallop past. Polo matches are essentially an outdoor summer party with a very casual, fun atmosphere.

What to Wear

Leave Derby Day feathery fascinator headpieces at home to avoid blocking the view of those behind you. Spectators usually choose to wear riding pants, clean jeans, and collared shirts—quite a few will be wearing boots. In Palm Beach, Florida, sundresses, dress shorts, and polo shirts are the preferred uniform. Shoes or boots are suggested over heels and sandals, which could sink into the grass or allow a close encounter with horse poo during the divot stomp.

How to Behave

Polo was invented by warriors practicing their riding skills using a human head as the ball. Things aren’t quite as lively today, with polite enthusiasm welcome and phones muted during play.

At horse shows, remain seated and clap politely. Horses and riders are concentrating intensely, making it critical that fans avoid distracting actions. Cellphones should be muted during the performances, with calls being made from the lobby during intermission.

The Art of the Divot Stomp

Horse show intermissions are pretty straightforward, but those new to polo will be baffled by the halftime activities. A mass of people will make their way onto the field, drinks in hand. They chat and laugh while performing odd steps known as the divot stomp. Horse hooves tear up the field, so spectators stomp the divots back into place while horses and riders take a well-deserved break.

Don’t Pet the Horses

Riders and horses are intent upon entering the ring to perform and then to go straight back to the stalls, which are always off-limits before, during, and after the show. Polo ponies are the jocks of the equestrian world, and as such, they aren’t a good choice for a nuzzle. Regardless of how impressive a rider has performed during a match, they won’t stop while headed on or off the pitch.

Bill Lindsey
Bill Lindsey is an award-winning writer based in South Florida. He covers real estate, automobiles, timepieces, boats, and travel topics.