Despite a complete lack of facilities for beginners in Hong Kong, Andrew Leung is making it easier for Hong Kongers to learn his beloved sport: polo.
When life throws you a curveball, you may throw yourself into alternative healing, yoga practice or creative courses to help take your mind of things, but for Andrew Leung, a rediscovered passion for playing polo was all it took for him to find inspiration during a rough patch. Here, he talks about how he fell in love with the sport initially and why he’s helping to get more Hong Kongers involved in the game through the inaugural Hong Kong Beginner’s Cup.
Thanks for chatting with us today, Andrew. Tell us about how your family found itself in the world of polo?
My father was quite a successful restaurateur in the 70s in the UK, but before that he was a actually a police officer in Hong Kong. In the 60s, he was able to learn to ride because of his job, and he took that passion for horses to the UK when he moved from Hong Kong. Thanks to his success in the restaurant world, he was able to buy horses, and he took the normal routes: equestrian, show jumping, dressage hunting, but then fell in love with polo in the 80s.
He soon realised that he enjoyed training polo ponies, and he’d go to the races and buy the horses that weren’t fast enough to win but were small enough to play polo, and he’d convert them into polo ponies and sell them. He was a bit of an entrepreneur in that sense, I guess, as most people in England at the time swore by the Argentinian stock, and he was one of the first to trust the English thoroughbred to play polo. Nowadays, that’s a common thing, so I guess he played a part in making that change.
So when did you first get into playing polo yourself then?
Well, obviously Dad was playing polo, but he also used to practice everyday in the summer. He used to stand on a chair in the backyard and hit balls in the grass over and over again to practice his swing. At that time, I was already riding–he used to take me riding all the time after school–but one day, I just had this urge to do what he did. I must have been about eight when I got the stick, stood on the chair and started swinging at the ball. So when Dad saw, he came out and corrected me to show me how to do it properly.
After that, he bought a really old polo horse with loads of experience, and that horse sort of worked on automatic; it was a great horse to learn on. And she really made me love polo.
Then, I practiced at the Cheshire Polo Club every week as I was growing up, and I was chosen to go to Argentina with a group of British polo players when I was around 15. That experience opened up a whole new world for me, and let me see a completely different style of the game; a lot wilder and more free.
I must say that, as much as I loved playing polo, sometimes, I did feel a bit different as an ethnic minority. The way I spoke wasn’t the Queen’s English, and on top of that, I was surrounded by very wealthy individuals, who had multiple horses, whereas I usually only had one. The whole thing was a bit of an uphill battle, but playing polo gave me an adrenaline rush like nothing else.
When I went to university, then I really had to give it up, and I never really thought, when I was studying law, that I would ever play again. And when I moved to Hong Kong in 2001, I knew there was no chance of me getting back into polo; there’s nowhere to play in Hong Kong. And I couldn’t afford it anyway.
When did the idea of getting back into the sport occur to you?
There was a polo match played in Tianjin in 2012 and I saw it on TVB, and Hong Kong was represented, alongside England and the USA. And I thought it was really interesting that not one of the players from the team was actually from Hong Kong, or ethnically Chinese. And that was the first time I thought I’d like to get back into it. But actually, it just made me really sad, as I thought I could never get back into the game, so I just switched it off.
Over the next few years, I got married, had a child, and I was working full-time as a lawyer, so polo was just not something that really factored in, except for when I would see games on the television.
In 2016, my ex-wife and I went separate our ways, and I was going through an adjustment period. I thought about what would make me feel happy again, and I just felt so drawn back to horses.
I tracked down the organiser of the Hong Kong Polo Team, and met up with him, and he suggested that I train myself back up. So I decided to get back in the saddle after twenty years. I actually went to a place in Thailand called Polo Escape, where for ten days, I trained intensively, and I got a lot of my skills back. I had a goal in mind as I was training: I really wanted to encourage more local Hong Kongers to get into the sport.
Polo re-lit a passion in my life, and really given me a sense of purpose. And on top of that, it’s helped me to de-stress, as the nature of playing this sport in a large field is therapeutic.
How did the idea for the Hong Kong Beginner’s Cup come about?
What spawned the idea of the Hong Kong Beginner’s Cup was when I first went to Tianjin, China and I saw that everything was under one roof. There was a hotel next to the polo ground, there was a shuttle service to pick you up from the airport; it was just so easy. Not only that, they have six Argentinian instructors teaching full time, so people can learn very quickly.
I found some people from Hong Kong who were interested in learning to play polo, and now we go once a month to Tianjin, and on 13/14 October 2018, the first Hong Kong Beginner’s Cup was held.
What’s your biggest hope that these beginners are getting out of learning to play this sport?
For me, it’s a dream come true to be in the situation where I’m able to share the sport I love with fellow Hong Kong people. You know, Hong Kong polo is not sustainable unless there is new local blood sustaining it. And hopefully, when there’s more and more people drawn into the sport, we’ll be able to have at least an arena polo facility in Hong Kong.