A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Manipur, birthplace of polo, donates exhibit
to International Museum of the Horse

The International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington recently unveiled a new exhibit chronicling the contributions of the people and ponies of Manipur. This Southeastern Himalayan kingdom, now a state in North East India, introduced the sport of polo to the British in 1854.

(Photo from the Kentucky Horse Park)

“This unique new exhibit is a perfect complement to the popular displays already enjoyed by visitors to the Kentucky Horse Park and the International Museum of the Horse,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “We’re grateful for this generous gift, which furthers the museum’s educational mission and helps tell the story of how cultures around the world share Kentuckians’ love of horses.”

His Excellency Shri Gurbachan Jagat, the Governor of Manipur, who made the gift of exhibit materials on behalf of the people of the Manipur, said, “Over the last century and a half, the sport of polo has become synonymous with British horsemanship. However, the story of how the British learned of the game, and of the people and ponies that first introduced it to them has remained shrouded in history.”

The exhibit in the Horse in Sport gallery features a traditional Manipuri polo saddle, braided bridle, braided leather whip, a full set of traditional polo player’s attire, two traditional polo mallets, a ball made of bamboo root, and a set of traditional equestrian darts. They were designed and constructed by Meisnam Khelen of Imphal, former captain of the Manipur Polo team.

It also offers a comparison with modern American polo gear provided by the United States Polo Association.

“We are very interested in the fascinating antecedents of our game and are pleased to have been a part of this new exhibit,” said Ed Armstrong, director of tournaments at the United States Polo Association.

The Manipuri Pony is still used for polo in Manipur. The traditional game is played with seven players per side, and many villages have polo fields. Unfortunately, the Manipuri pony is now an endangered breed with an estimated population of fewer than 500. Governor Jagat’s gift and the creation of the exhibit represent new international and local efforts in Manipur to protect the ponies that bear their name.

“We are extremely grateful to Gov. Jagat and people of Manipur not only for their significant donation of ethnographic material related to the Manipuri Pony, but also for allowing us to do our small part to raise awareness of these historically significant animals and the current threat of their extinction,” said Bill Cooke, director of the International Museum of the Horse.

From the Kentucky Horse Park

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