It’s a sport played by royals, sultans, tycoons, and sports enthusiasts. Polo is arguably one of the oldest team sports, and Taylor Hui, partner at Deacons, is a vocal proponent of it in Hong Kong.
Love for Horse-Riding and the Thrill of Playing Polo
A lifelong love of horses prompted Hui to sign up for a beginner’s horse-riding course at Lo Wu Saddle Club, which was then known as the Lo Wu Army Camp. The lessons, which were advertised on the radio, involved an army sergeant teaching a teenage Hui and his classmates how to walk, trot, canter and jump, all in six lessons.
The riding opportunities, including trail riding, continued in Australia where Hui received an LLB, BEc (Finance) from Macquarie University. Shortly after, he returned to Hong Kong to practise law. “Riding a horse into the woods is one of the closest ways you can get to being a part of nature,” he says.
Hui continued his equestrian hobby for two decades with occasional breaks. His interest in polo was sparked, when a young alum of his high school, St. Paul’s College of Hong Kong, organised a polo experience trip to the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club in Pattaya, Thailand. The sport appealed to Hui’s athletic side and love of horses, with the socialisation aspect an added bonus.
One connection made on the trip was Andrew Leung, a barrister at Gilt Chambers and fellow polo enthusiast in the legal field. Leung started playing polo in the U.K. as a teenager before eventually setting up Hong Kong Polo Development (HKPD), where Hui is now one of the directors.
Leung recruited a group of five men ranging from a 27-year-old pilot to a 57-year-old businessman in 2018 who are passionate about the sport. The group trained and played polo in places such as Beijing, Tianjin and Bangkok, with Hui describing the trips as “fun and very social, like school trips.” The team went on monthly training trips to Tianjin on the weekends from March 2018 and played in a four-team tournament seven months later.
“Yes, you can learn polo without prior riding experience,” says Hui, noting that some of his teammates had picked up the sport without prior time on horseback. The team also grew to include a few female riders, one of the fastest-growing polo-playing groups. “Yes, polo is a unisex sport that men and women of all ages can compete on the same field,” he added.
One competition that stands out to Hui is the first two-day Hong Kong Polo Beginners’ Cup that took place in Tianjin in 2018, where he led Deacons’ polo team. The team played two matches, with the cheering from spectators, families and friends adding to the fun and excitement of the tournament alongside the Olympics-style grand parade entrance with marching music and announcers.
The tournament ended with the teams having celebratory drinks and traditional Argentine BBQ, dreaming of playing polo in Argentina, the country known for polo, good wine, steaks, tango and motorcycle rides on country roads, all of which Hui would like to experience.
Dating back to the sixth century BC, polo originated in modern-day Iran, where it was used as a training method for the Persian king’s cavalry guards to prepare them for warfare. It became popular during China’s Tang dynasty, with poet Li Bai reportedly a keen player.
Polo was brought to England in 1860s by army officers stationed in India and became popular in many European countries. Winston Churchill, a keen polo player, once said that “a polo handicap is a person’s ticket to the world.”
“Taking a polo pony at full gallop, which can be up to 55 km per hour, while simultaneously trying to hit a ball the size of a tennis ball, is a feeling cannot be matched by driving a Ferrari, for example. Some liken polo to playing golf in an earthquake, which I think is a very fitting description,” Hui says.
Promoting Polo in Hong Kong
Hui also emphasized the comparative affordability of playing polo today. Polo players need to use multiple horses for each game, but it is not necessary to own any ponies, as they are now available for hire. Hiring a horse for a 30 to 40-minute training session with a coach costs about the same as a personal trainer session at the gym, “so playing polo is not as expensive as some people may think,” he says.
The lack of facilities and land in Hong Kong, however, is a bigger obstacle for polo in Hong Kong.
With no facilities to play after Hong Kong lost its grass polo field in Shek Kong airport in the 1960s, polo players have to look outside the city. Hui would typically catch a flight to Tianjin, for example, after work on a Friday. After two full days of morning and afternoon practice sessions, he would catch the first flight back to Hong Kong on Monday. He notes that trips to Bangkok were more flexible as there are more flights between the two cities and estimates that he made around six to seven polo-practicing trips in 2019.
“Even Singapore, which is smaller in size than Hong Kong, houses one of the oldest polo clubs in Asia. A newly started Colts Polo in 2018 has a small arena field with 12 polo ponies and attracted 180 students, the largest group in the world. We can model [polo’s development in Hong Kong] on that but first, we need to attract more players to learn and form a community, which HKPD aims to do,” says Hui.
“We need to find a modest piece of land to start our polo club. It may be across the border in the Greater Bay Area, there are polo clubs in Beijing and Tianjin and I don’t see why we can’t have one here,” he added.
Another crucial obstacle to overcome is the supply of horses. Hui suggests that support from the Hong Kong Jockey Club in the form of some retired racehorses to be retrained to play polo, is also needed.
HKPD also aims to get the association recognised by the government, with the goal of sending a Hong Kong polo team to represent the city in the Asia Cup.
Life as a Lawyer and a Sport Enthusiast During a Global Pandemic
How does one juggle exercise with a demanding law career? “Wake up early,” says Hui.
Pre-COVID-19, his typical day started at 6:45 am.to avoid the horrendous Hong Kong traffic before dropping his son off at school and hitting the gym twice a week before work.
The work-from-home routine brought on by the pandemic has forced Hui to take things more slowly, as he saved time without having to travel to and from the office and had more time for rest and sleep. He used some of that extra time to read, with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, standing out from the read pile. “Everyone should read it to better understand ourselves as a species and our failures. It also poses an important question, ‘What is happiness?’”, he says.
Hui is one of the founding lawyers of Deacons’ investment funds practice, which has grown from seven to 53 fee earners and broken new ground since he joined the firm over 21 years ago. He compares the risks in playing polo, where players need to be alert and anticipate the risks through practice, with running a law practice.
He advises potential polo players to have a sense of adventure, be a team player, keep reasonably fit and have tenacity as well as a sense of anticipation, all skills which are also associated with the successful lawyer. “Anyone with an able body and right mind who owns a polo shirt should learn polo. Contact me if you are interested,” he says.
Hui also enjoys other sports besides polo. A sport that he plays as often as he can with his son, who trains with the Hong Kong junior squad, is golf.
“It is wonderful to be able to spend time with my teenage son who has now surpassed me in golfing ability by a mile. I am also involved in MiB Golf, comprised of professionals in the funds industry. It is a good opportunity to network through my hobby,” he says.
He also plays tennis with one of the Hong Kong Jockey Club tennis teams in the summer and in winter night leagues organised by the Hong Kong Tennis Association.
Pre-COVID-19, Hui also went on two snowboarding holidays during the winter to Myoko, Japan for the powder snow and Dolomites, Italy for the scenery and pistes.
He has also kept up his classical dressage training, taking up the livery of the St. Paul’s Boys racing syndicate’s retired four-time champion racehorse, Winner St. Paul’s, two years ago. Hui rides Winner three times a week at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Beas River Country Club, where he has been a member for over 20 years.
Although the pandemic has seen the Hong Kong government ban horse riding, tennis and golf at public facilities, Hui is still able to saddle up with Winner as a livery horse owner, sometimes riding his Ducati to visit him.
Hui’s personal trainer also recommended squats and a hundred push-ups, which can be divided throughout the day, to maintain his upper body and core strength. He also occasionally goes jogging in the hilly roads near his home. “It is frustrating and hopefully this period will pass soon so that we can resume our polo training,” he says.
A member of the Law Society of Hong Kong, Hui heads the China team within Deacons’ Financial Services practice.
Charging down the field
Hong Kong Beginners’ Cup 2019
The Deacons polo team is ready for the match
The first rosette Winner St. Paul’s and Taylor won together at the October 2020 Hong Kong Equestrian Federation Online Competition
The first win of St. Paul’s Boys Syndicate’s current race horse - All For St. Paul’s - at Class 4 - 1,400 metres race [at Sha Tin Racecourse] on 4 October 2020