Four horsewomen of Hong Kong are taking polo to the next level

Jackie Wang, Jessie Chang, Clarice Ng and Ellie Briana are playing their part promoting the sport while preparing for the inaugural Beginners Cup

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2018, 3:26pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 August, 2018, 10:13am

Jackie Wang’s polo adventure could very well be a personal case study of her own doctoral research into the history of women in business in modern China.

“I’m really interested in gender history and the transformation of Chinese women in business,” said Wang, who is pursuing her PhD at the University of Hong Kong. “I used to do work for the UN in women’s empowerment and gender equality. I think there are a lot of parallels in terms of women’s empowerment and polo. More and more women are getting into polo and learning the game.

“It is a male-dominated sport and also a very niche sport and it’s actually one of the few sports in which men and women can play at the same time as equals.

“In the modern age of China’s economic development, women are at the forefront of that and women in polo is also an emerging trend.”

Wang, who started playing polo two years ago, is one of several women involved in October’s Hong Kong Beginners’ Cup competition organised by local lawyer and polo enthusiast Andrew Leung to help raise the profile of the sport.

Brought up in Canada, the mainland-born Wang jumped at the chance to be part of the inaugural Beginners Cup – which sees absolute beginners playing in a tournament alongside intermediate and experienced players after a nine-month crash course.

“I think it’s very inspiring and hopefully inspires people in Hong Kong to learn polo and try it out,” she said. “It’s not often you get true beginners learning from scratch and them competing in a tournament.”

The programme involves the players travelling regularly to the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club in the mainland to learn riding and the basics of the game from expert Argentinian instructors.

Other women taking part in the tournament are Jessie Chang Ziyin, Clarice Ng Sau-lan and experienced polo player Ellie Briana Molyneux.

Chang’s first polo lesson was in September, 2017 and she considers herself a beginner. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she was introduced to the sport by a university friend in the United Kingdom and became part of the Beginners Cup after connecting with Leung through Facebook.

“There’s no polo field in Hong Kong,” said Chang, a property agent who is opening an art management and production company. “It’s kind of hard to find time to do it, we have to go to Thailand or China to play.

“But I’m very eager to practise and do more things, I’m a beginner at the moment. I want to play in other tournaments in the future. It would also be good to have more people in Hong Kong playing polo.”

Ng learned to ride a horse while studying in the UK and also found out about Leung's programme via social media and through another Hong Kong player, Justin Lau.

“In the UK, the women play professionally although the top handicaps are dominated by men,” she said. “But you still see many women players and hopefully Hong Kong will also have more.

“We have been training really hard and I want to practise more to improve myself,” added Ng, who said she hoped to one day open a polo school in Hong Kong.

American Molyneux is the guiding hand for many of the beginner polo players, men and women. A teacher at an international school, she grew up with horses but only learned polo while in Mexico.

Considered an experienced player, she is naturally left-handed and had to train herself to use her right hand more often – which included brushing her teeth with her “wrong” hand.

“In the United States, about 40 per cent of registered polo players are female,” she said. “It’s not really a sport about strength, it’s about safety, being clever, tactics, tenacity and riding ability.

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“Horses are what you win the game with. I originally thought there was no way I would play it. I find it a challenge to have a ball in front of you and you hit it and it goes where you mean to hit it. When you get it right it’s so rewarding and if you get it wrong it’s instant feedback.

“If the horse doesn’t do what you want, the feedback is immediate.”

As a schoolteacher, Briana says she watches kids play with their iPads for four or five hours a day and she would love to get them in the open spaces playing polo, but there is little chance of that in Hong Kong.

She cites the example of one youngster in her class who noticed her polo stick and she offered him the chance to try it out.

“After three months of just swinging this thing, not even on a horse, he was so good,” said Molyneux. “What do I tell this guy? ‘Fly to Thailand [if you want to play]’?”

Leung is part of Hong Kong Dragons Polo, an organisation set up to promote and teach polo to Hongkongers of all ages. He is behind the Hong Kong Beginners Cup in his quest to popularise the sport in Hong Kong and make it accessible to people such as Molyneux’s student.

“I am proud to have a female polo player in every one of the four competing teams,” Leung said. “It emphasises that polo can be enjoyed by both genders in mixed teams.

“In fact the female participants in the Hong Kong Beginners Cup have been inspirational to the male beginners, as the females all had horse riding experience and therefore advanced to striking the ball at an earlier stage.

“It was refreshing and rewarding to see the female beginners lead the way and show the male beginners how to ride and hit the ball.”

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