Hong Kong

Polo causes rift between father and son and then brings them together as ex-racehorse trainer, 71, rides again after 30 years

Stephen Leung is brought out of retirement by his son Andrew to compete in the Tianjin tournament and help promote the sport in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 10:55pm

Stephen Leung Sik-lun had not ridden a polo pony for almost 30 years. He was also not too keen on his son, Andrew Leung, spending so much time playing polo – he felt he should be focusing more on his career as a lawyer.

Their diverging views caused a rift between father – an ex-racehorse trainer who worked with former Hong Kong champion Indigenous – and son. That was until a few months ago when the elder Leung read an article in a magazine about Andrew’s project – the Hong Kong Beginners Cup, in which a handful of absolute beginners would be given nine months to learn how to ride, hit a ball and finally compete in a fully fledged tournament.

“It was maybe because of my son,” said Stephen Leung, when asked why, at 71, he decided to climb on a polo pony again. “He started to play polo as a small boy under my influence in England. Now he is so devoted to this game and starting a beginner’s programme for polo in Hong Kong, so I said okay, I will support him.

“I haven’t ridden a polo pony for nearly 30 years,” added Leung, who would also ride trackwork for racehorses until 16 years ago. “I used to ride my stable horses every morning but riding trackwork is very different to riding a polo pony.

“Polo ponies do not rely on speed or that type of stamina. They only last for 25 minutes for a game and go at a slow speed, canter or slow canter. I’m 71 but because my son asked me, I decided to give it a try.”

The Hong Kong Beginners Cup will be held in Tianjin on October 13 and 14 and will feature four teams, each with at least one rider from the beginners’ programme.

For British-raised Andrew Leung, having his father return to the saddle was a dream come true.

“I have been asking him to play again for two years,” said 40-year-old Andrew Leung. who himself started playing again after a 20-year hiatus. “He was actually reluctant for me to play polo again because he knows how expensive it is and how much like a drug it can be as well as distracting me from my work as a lawyer.

“Our relationship faced a challenging period at the time but with the success I’ve had and with the media and popularity it has generated, he got involved and realised he can still help and for me it’s a dream come true.”

Andrew was first put on a horse by his father when he was two years old, with the family having close ties to the Cheshire Polo Club in England. He learned how to ride at four and started learning polo at nine.

“I had my last game with my dad when I was 13 years old,” said Andrew. “I thought that I would never play polo with him ever again. But this time I’m teaching him and he is the beginner.”

Stephen Leung overcame a major obstacle during the past week when he took his first lesson, vowing that if he did well, he would continue for another 10 lessons before the tournament.

Watch Andrew Leung give beginners a lesson in polo

“I never thought about playing polo again. I play golf instead, I love golfing,” said Stephen Leung, who said his best handicap was five.

The tournament has attracted a number of sponsors, including Deacons law firm and the Hong Kong Lam Tsuen village body. The Leungs are both of Hakka origin and have gained support from their village for the tournament.

“It is meaningful to promote sports activities especially some new ones that the community is seldom involved in, so I think we need to promote this sport,” said Lam Tsuen village head Lam Luk-wing. “Andrew and his father are both Lam Tsuen residents and that’s one of the reasons we support this activity, especially because they are indigenous villagers in the New Territories.”

With the tournament two weeks away, Andrew Leung is still getting to grips with the fact that his vision is becoming a reality.

“What is great is watching these players progress like babies, learning how to walk and now running,” he said. “Now they are riding and hitting the ball at a canter. To watch these grown men improve like this, it’s like I'm their father. I saw this vision a long time ago and they were not aware it was possible and now it is happening.

“Sometimes we feel like super heroes because we go away once a month to do a mission [practice] and then go back to our normal lives.”