Swinging away

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am


Young Post headed up to Tianjin last weekend to catch up with some top young polo players, watch a match and even try their hand at the sport. During the six-day trip, editor Susan Ramsay, reporter Kevin Kung and cadet Heyna Wong all experienced their first-ever attempt at polo at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club.

Last Sunday, Young Post watched an exciting Under-18 polo match that saw the Young England team clash on horseback with a junior side from France. The French scored first, but the English team rallied, eventually winning 9-3.

On the English side were captain William Batchelor, Ralph Richardson, Charlie Walton, Tommy Beresford and reserve player Tim Pearce May. Tommy was awarded the Best Player Award.

Before the match, 15-year-old Tommy told us he learns polo at his school, the famous Wellington College. On average they play three to four times a week and spend most of their holidays practising.

His teammate and best friend Ralph Richardson explained the importance of a deep understanding between teammates. 'There are bonds between polo players and we are all part of a big family. We need to have great teamwork in order to win,' he said.

Members of the French team, on the other hand, meet only once a week, and sometimes on weekends, as their school doesn't offer polo. Their team has no captain- four players- Louis Gay, Dorian Bulteau, Thomas Calascibetta and Antoine Carli- say they're all in charge.

The difference showed: the French played well but missed some crucial chances to score. The Brits punished them with clinically executed counterattacks.

The aim in polo is to score by driving a small white ball into the opposing team's goal. That's easier said than done.

Young Post learned this fact at the Junior Equestrian & Polo Programme, which kicked off the following day.

We started early to beat the heat. After getting to know our horses, we hopped into the saddle - or clambered, rather, with some help. Senior equestrian instructor Isabel Branch taught us about controlling horses, by tugging at the reins.

Then came a practice session with mallets, sat astride specially made wooden horses. Mallets are the sticks used to hit the balls. They can be quite heavy and take some getting used to. Isabel demonstrated how swing them, and hit the ball forwards and backwards.

Head polo professional Derek Reid was also on hand to gives us some advice. Soon enough, our palms were sore from wielding the mallets.

The following day we did some work with shorter mallets called foot mallets. Then it was time to get back on the horses again- and practice our swings from the saddle. It wasn't all that easy but our instructors were patient and the careful grooms made us feel safe.

In the end, all three of us were able to hit the ball to the target, even as our horses moved about. We returned to Hong Kong exhausted, sore, but extremely proud of ourselves!

If the sound of this exciting game appeals, and you're lamenting the lack of a polo club in Hong Kong, fear not. The Tianjin Metropolitan Goldin Polo Club will take two lucky Young Post readers on one of their JEPP courses at the end of the holidays.

Watch the video linked to this article at yp.scmp.com, answer the questions, then e-mail us. You, too, could have a swing at one of the most thrilling sports ever played!