Patrick Furlong Wants to Break Polo's Elitist Stereotypes
The sport is back and it’s here to stay, at least according to the Argentinian captain of the Hong Kong Polo Team.
When did you start playing polo? I got on a horse pretty much as soon as I could walk. My family was involved with horses and spent a lot of time on the family farm. My father used to play so he got me into it at a very young age—pretty much as soon as I could lift a polo stick. So, I’d say I was riding by four or five and starting to practise when I was eight.
What is the one stereotype you constantly hear about polo? There is an association that it is an exclusive sport, elitist, not very accessible. I would disagree. In fact, in many places the sport is much more accessible than people think and not super expensive. In some places like Argentina or Mexico or the U.S., there’s a lot of people who play and you don’t have to be very wealthy to do so.
What does your team do to keep focused? All players train and practice as often as they can. Some players play other sports, like golf or tennis. In terms of mental strength, when we play tournaments I normally try to get my players to relax ahead of the games, talk about strategy and get people comfortable with what they need to do. But sometimes it’s difficult. The game can go the way you wanted yet players still get frustrated and agitated.
Do you ride the same horse every game? For every match you need at least four horses. So every player would have four horses or more to play regularly. You need to practise with all your horses, as each is different. You have to adapt your game to the horse and the horse has to adapt its game to you. You tend to train with your horse regularly, and they get used to your riding as well so it’s important to keep that regular.
How do you ensure a total horse-human connection? Through getting to know and understand the horse. Ensuring the horse is fit for the game, well trained and fed appropriately. Horses also have off days. Riding them regularly means you get to know them and can perform better as a team.
Do you have a favorite horse? You always have favorite horses. Some are faster than others. Some are easier or more agile or have a better “personality.” It’s like your children—you don’t want to have a favorite but you kind of have preferences. I like a more feisty horse. You have to work a little bit harder to manage them, but normally those are the ones that produce better results.
Any stories of things that have gone wrong? Communication on the field is always a challenge because you have players that can be 100 meters apart. My first language is not English, so sometimes in the heat of the game I’ll speak Spanish because it’s my first language. So sometimes I’ll give instructions in Spanish and no one understands!
Do you feel that Hong Kong supports polo? Hong Kong has a tradition of equestrian sport and of polo. Not that many people know that. Polo was played in Hong Kong up until the handover. As more and more people hear about this, the team and what we’re doing, they get behind it immediately.
A version of this article appears in the November 27, 2015 issue of HK Magazine as Street Talk.