Students learn to saddle up for sport of kings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am


At the end of last month, two lucky readers, Dora Cheung Yan-tung and Andy Chu Keng-hong, were whisked away to the Tianjin Metropolitan Polo Club for a four-day taster of its Junior Equestrian and Polo Programme. They were winners of a summer competition run jointly by the club and Young Post.

Polo is re-emerging on the mainland after hundreds of years, as more people look for ways to spend their leisure time.

The winners, Dora's mother and the Young Post editor were picked up at Tianjin airport and taken to the French-style hotel that is part of the polo club. To make the Hongkongers feel at home, the first meal was at the club's Hong Kong-style Congeodle restaurant. While sampling the delicious 'street food', they met four British students, Claudia Stevenson, William Stevenson, Caroline Dreesman and Arthur Cole-Fontayn, and their chaperone, Clare Evans, from Wellington College, in England, riding teacher Isabelle Branch and polo professional Derek Reid.

Next morning, they met the horses and got their first taste of the 'sport of kings'. Dora says: 'The horses in the polo club all look neat and tame, with strong and beautiful muscles. They are lovely and sweet, especially when they rub their heads and breathe on your face.'

Branch helped the new riders to get on to their horses, Angel and Aztec, and then came the hard work of learning to control these big animals. It's not as easy as it looks and both Dora and Andy were glad grooms were on hand to help them.

On their very first day, they were taught how to wield a polo mallet, a long stick that is used to hit the ball while riding the horse. 'It seems to be a sport that takes a lot of time to learn,' says Dora. 'It is really tiring to control the horses and hit the ball with a long mallet.'

Andy enjoyed his first day of riding. 'I didn't feel nervous at all,' he says. The keen footballer seemed more at ease kicking the polo balls than hitting them with the mallet, but enjoyed the sessions where he was coached by the more experienced Wellington players.

On the last day, they were able to see a real match involving the Wellington team and the club team. Students from Wellington's sister school, Wellington College International Tianjin, were also there to watch the contest.

'In polo matches, both the horses and the player look smart,' Dora says. 'The horse will have its tail tied up and bandages on its legs to avoid accidents or injury, while the player will be in a polo shirt, white jeans, leather boots, and wear protective gear. The horses dash around with great strength and speed and the players push themselves to the limit.'

Yet the visit was not only about horses and polo. Apart from the spectacular meals - teppanyaki chefs dazzled guests with mouthwatering wagyu treats - there were also many fun activities arranged by the staff.

First off there was water polo, where the 'Hong Kong team' morphed into the 'China team' against the Wellington students.

Although Dora and Andy were given a helping hand by the club staff, they were unable to beat the visitors. But who cares: the cool water was a welcome contrast after all the hot work of horse riding.

During a dumpling-making class, the students were given a chance to learn to make the famous Chinese treat by the club's chefs. 'It looks easy when the chef demonstrates it, but it's hard. It really takes practice,' says Dora.

Each morning, the youngsters had the chance to practice tai chi with the club's master, while on the last two days they tried body combat and exercise ball.

'It has been great, not only experiencing polo and recreation lessons, but also making friends with students from Wellington College and meeting nice and brilliant coaches,' says Dora.