Club Polo: Do Relationships Prevent Lawsuits and Make Waivers Unnecessary?

By Corinna Charlton, Charlton Equine Law

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Corinna for this contribution to She is an equine attorney in San Francisco. This article originally ran in her blog, on June  7, 2012.

“It’s the Friends that make us Nervous!”

My younger brother Collin (shown in the photo) is a polo superstar; he has gone to numerous interscholastic and intercollegiate national polo finals, and currently plays on Team USPA (U.S. Polo Association), a nationwide traveling polo team.   He splits his time between arena and field polo, though the summer season is dominated by field polo, and the winter season with arena.  He joins us today to share an anecdotal perspective about his experience with polo liability release forms…

Release forms in the polo community

by Collin White

Release forms are becoming more common in polo clubs these days. In my experience, signing a release form before playing a polo game is rare. Polo is a very dangerous sport where human and horse injuries can be frequent, but it’s uncommon to see a polo player sue the club. The polo community is very close-knit, and a personal injury during play becomes your own responsibility, rather than being a liability for the club.  If a polo player were to sue, he or she could potentially build a bad reputation.

On the other hand, there are a lot of friends of polo players that keep us all worried.  It is pretty comical when we see a friend of a polo player running around the polo field on one of the player’s horses, nearly out of control (and most of the time not even wearing a helmet). Most likely this person has not signed a release because of the laid-back nature of the sport. While being entertained by the lack of horsemanship skills, we often joke around with the manager that he should be running out there on the field with a release form and pen because this may not be a pretty ending.

I have yet to see an ugly lawsuit against a polo club because of a personal injury, and I hope it remains that way.  Injuries are a part of the game, and the high risk involved in it is what makes polo so entertaining, as well as fun to play!

PS: Be sure to visit the Wine Country Polo Club this summer for some great polo games!


I appreciate Collin’s honesty about the dangerous potential of playing polo, as in most every equestrian sport.  While every effort is made to ensure safety of the players and the horses, it is impossible to eliminate the inherent risk of galloping up to 35 miles per hour while focused on hitting a small white ball, along with 7 other players on the field.

If you have never played polo before, I would highly suggest beginning with indoor polo (slower pace, bigger ball, and only 3 players per team!) with a reputable club that emphasizes the polo ponies’ health and well-being.

One reason why I’ve become an equine attorney is because such stories, like what Collin shared about the “laid-back nature” of many polo clubs, make me cringe at the potential legal liability.  While it is wonderful that the club players have such a rapport that lawsuits would be unlikely–and while I bemoan the issue of an increasingly litigious society along with all of you–lawsuits by riders unwilling to admit they assumed the risk by getting onto a horse unfortunately do exist.

While a liability release cannot (typically) prevent someone from suing you, a release can allow the judge to dismiss the case/ grant summary judgment early on, and horse clubs or barns can hopefully avoid costly trials.

How often are you asked to sign a release form when you go to a clinic, show, or to ride on a friend’s property? How do you handle friends coming to ride on your property- do you rely on the friendship to prevent a lawsuit, have good insurance, or a release form?

(Wine Country Polo is in Santa Rosa in Northern California, be sure to plan a Sunday picnic at the club if you are in the area!)

About the author: Corinna has been an avid rider since childhood and is an accomplished rider with competitive experience. She is licensed to practice law in California and Kentucky; visit for more information.