Five Minutes With…Malcolm Borwick

[24/08/15] 

Malcolm Borwick has been at the pinnacle of the international polo scene for a decade, including wearing the white shirt for England on some of the game’s greatest pitches. He speaks with NecesCity about the evolution of modern polo, its luxurious legacy and its often brutal physicality.

You come from a polo dynasty, was your involvement in the game pre-determined?
I started playing at age 11 and had to drive 45 minutes to get to a pony club where I could play. It wasn’t until my 18th birthday when my grandmother showed me her champion's trophy. It turns out her father and uncles had made up the England team from 1902-1908 and my father had played in the British army so I guess there was a genetic predisposition there. But even then it’s a very tough sport; the top 10 percent of players make money, the next 20 percent survive and the rest get swallowed up.

 

How much of the playboy persona is present in modern polo?
I think like all sports, we have moved on from the "playboy" superstar era; the demands of any top level professional sport are too great to allow any off field behaviour that might jeopardise your on-field performance. The top players in the world now travel with personal trainers, physiotherapists and coaches. I hope that does not mean that polo will lose its appeal. The playboy image is useful to the sport as it keeps people's imaginations working, and certainly draws in some spectators who may be less interested in the game.

 

What’s the greatest challenges physically?
For adults there is a fear of falling off and that takes a while to get over. We have a saying that it takes 100 falls to make a good rider and I’ve done that comfortably. We’re going at 35 miles an hour, on half a ton of horse, hitting at 45 degree angles, you do the math. It’s a pretty big impact. The biggest risks are horses coming down on top of you and it’s the slower falls that are the most dangerous because with the faster falls we tend to get thrown away. Horse riding is by far the most challenging aspect; polo is 80 percent the horse and 20 percent us, so riding is crucial. The greatest challenge [for professional players] is recovery; every game is like a boxing match, you take a lot of hits; it's pulling up quickly the following morning, and preparing for the next match that is the hard part.

 

What is your fitness regime like? It is more about playing polo than preparing to play?
We have a split between "match fitness" and overall conditioning. During the polo clinics I give around the world, new players experience how much flexibility is required to execute certain shots. So we train to improve and maintain that core strength. Match fitness only comes from riding; there is no amount of gym work that can prepare you for the demands of a game. That is just hours in the saddle.

 

The entertainment aspects play vital roles at any polo event – which tournaments do you think party off the pitch best?
The Royal Salute Coronation Cup [next held in London in July 2016] has an incredible after party; it is the end of the UK season, so the players and spectators get to let their hair down. In terms of places where the balance between parties and polo matches fall in favour of parties, Plettenburg Bay in South Africa is fantastic. They run a tournament over Christmas and New Year that involves more parties than matches!

 

The British and Argentinians, once enemies and from opposite corners of the globe, but excel at polo – where do you think they draw this talent from?
The enmity between Britain and Argentina is relatively modern, and the talent was there way before. The Argentines have dominated the game from the early 1900s. The environment in which the Argentines grow up, a climate that is conducive to polo nine months a year, flat land, an equine culture, plenty of leisure time, combined with great sporting genetics have made for a perfect cocktail. Polo is a game of dynasties, one generation passes on knowledge, horses and contacts to the next. As a sport that is very hard to break into the up reaches of without a lot of help at the start of your career.

 

Why does polo draw from such a prestigious crowd?
Many of the people who play on the international circuit are very wealthy and for them the game is addictive and the one thing they can’t dominate. The likes of the owners of Amway or the Coco-cola family, people from serious wealth, they fall in love with the sport. Polo is the most addictive thing that many players ever do. It attracts alpha males, or alpha females if there is such a thing. I don’t think people consciously choose to play because they are wealthy but they might try it or be teased into trying it and then go ‘wow, this is amazing’. The way they grow with the sport, and love everything, from the breeding of the horses to the establishment of properties, it is an incredible evolution and we [Borwick also runs a polo consultation firm helping export the game] can guide them all the way through. Polo is like a super culture; you could be sitting down with Prince Charles or with a blacksmith, it’s completely classless.

 

What are some of the best experiences you’ve had playing the game?
At 14 I was awarded a scholarship to go down to Argentina to learn the sport and it really opened up my eyes. I remember walking onto Palermo, a polo pitch in Buenos Aires that’s like Lords for polo players, and I remember thinking ‘one day I’m going to play here’ and from then on I started taking it more seriously. I’ve played against some of the best players in the world; competing at the very top levels is very tough but very rewarding.

 


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