WY-LENE YAP: Welcome to Singapore! Is this your first time here?
MALCOLM BORWICK: Yeah, it is! Over the last 27 years as a professional polo player, I have travelled to 32 countries and Singapore is one of the places that I desperately wanted to visit, so it’s great to be here finally.
WY-LENE: Are you enjoying yourself?
MALCOLM: It’s been lovely and everyone has been very welcoming. When I visited the Singapore Polo Club, there were a lot of familiar faces from all my trips around the world.
WY-LENE: What do you like about Singapore so far?
MALCOLM: Well, I haven’t had the chance to see the attractions yet. But I would like to go to Marina Bay Sands or the Formula One track. The Singapore Polo Club was a real eye-opener – it is very unique to have one in the middle of a city. For me, it’s like a jewel in the crown, and it should be a centre for corporate events for polo, and a hub for high net worth individuals to watch the game.
WY-LENE: Did you ever dream of becoming a polo star?
MALCOLM: I grew up playing cricket and I was kind of heading down the semi-professional path. When I went to university, I needed to earn money in the summer to pay for my tuition fees. Unfortunately, I wasn’t good enough in cricket, but I was good enough to play polo. By the time I had finished university, I managed to reach the professional level and was invited to go on tour. From then on, it became my destiny.
WY-LENE: At the age of 11, you started to pick up the sport through the pony club system and you only turned professional when you were 18. In that 7 years, were there times when you felt like giving up?
MALCOLM: Never – polo for me, is the sum of all sports. I can’t think of a day where I’ve said to myself: I don’t want to do this anymore. I’ve never reached that point… but if I ever get to that stage, I will give up. There is just so much to love about the sport – the passion, the people, the horses, and the competitiveness. Just the other day, I was driving to my first professional match of the season (the tour has moved to England now), and in the car, I said to my wife: I’m actually nervous for the first time and I have not felt this way for as long as I can remember. This anxiety to play keeps me alive.
WY-LENE: How’s the season coming along?
MALCOLM: We were drawn against the number one seed in our first game, and got beaten quite badly. Using a Formula One analogy, teams like Ferrari or Mercedes are ahead of the pack, and it is our job to catch up.
WY-LENE: What was the name of your first horse?
MALCOLM: He was called Kilpy.
WY-LENE: That’s such an adorable name.
MALCOLM: When we started playing polo, they were not trained polo ponies – these were horses used for dressage, jumping and riding. Subsequently, we taught them how to play the sport. Kilpy was 11 years old and he did everything else… so I thought: let’s see if he can play polo, and over time, after looking at the ball and mallet, he got the hang of it. As a professional polo player, you will have a string of horses. You might have a favourite horse, but it rotates and changes as the years go by because of injuries picked up along the way.
WY-LENE: Do you have a favourite horse at the moment?
MALCOLM: Yeah, I have a signature horse called Irish – very beautiful, grey, Australian thoroughbred that has been with me for 5 years.
WY-LENE: Do you personally own any horses?
MALCOLM: Yes, I breed and own 22 young horses in Argentina, and 12 in England.
WY-LENE: How many times have you fallen off a horse before?
MALCOLM: Lots of times. There is a great expression we use: “A hundred falls to make a good rider.” So I would say I’m probably a good rider.
WY-LENE: Are you fluent in “Horse”?
MALCOLM: Great question. I won’t say I’m fluent – I think there are variances in the horse language. Sometimes, we understand each other perfectly, and sometimes we don’t. We communicate with horses in many different ways and some will tell you about the ‘horse whisperer’ mentality that creates a natural union. But the fact of the matter is, we are asking horses to perform complicated moves, and pushing them to the limits of their physical capabilities. If I did that to you in the gym, you will like it to a point and then you won’t like it for the last ten percent. It’s the same for horses.
WY-LENE: How do you choose the right horse?
MALCOLM: It’s very tricky and comes with experience. When I first started riding, I would get on any horse. Now, as I get older, I’m more fussy. A horse will communicate with you almost within the first ten strides and you will know if you really like that horse. It’s a bit like buying car: do you want to walk into a Ferrari dealership or a Volkswagen dealership?
WY-LENE: So you need to test drive.
MALCOLM: Yeah, and you need to decide whether you can justify that level of investment or not.
WY-LENE: What do you love the most about polo?
MALCOLM: I get the most satisfaction when I’m able to bring out the best in my teammates, and that includes enabling them to perform better than their perceived abilities, and having everyone function well as a team. That aside, the day-to-day experiences where you get to have dinner with the Maharaja and the King, yet at the same time, work with the blacksmiths and grooms, is something that I love. You have to relate to the amazing super culture of two diverse worlds.
WY-LENE: After playing in so many countries, is there one that was particularly memorable?
MALCOLM: Each country has different memories and experiences, but there were two amazing countries in particular. I had a wonderful time in Nigeria, and it was a completely eye-opening experience playing for 10,000 people. When I went to India [Jaipur], I wasn’t used to the celebrity status because polo is such an important sport to them and it’s even on the back pages of the newspapers. On the streets, crowds of children follow you wherever you go…
WY-LENE: What are some of the greatest lessons learnt from playing the sport?
MALCOLM: Never think you have got it cracked because there is always something more you can learn. I’m grateful every day for what I do. Most people never get the chance to be in my position and I remind myself never to complain or be unappreciative because it has been a real privilege.
WY-LENE: In the UK, can I play polo if I don’t have a trust fund or a title?
MALCOLM: Absolutely. In the UK, Polo is just as accessible as joining a golf club. You can get polo lessons for £45 and they will give you a horse, stick, boots, helmet, etc. You just have to show up. We want to break down this barrier and perception that polo is only for the landed gentry or multimillionaires. Polo, both as a spectator and player, is a lot more accessible than people think – you just have to look for it.
WY-LENE: Why do you think Polo hasn’t achieved mass appeal yet? Is it because of its elitist image?
MALCOLM: No, because mass appeal obviously comes with television, and polo is played on a large open space (300m field) with quite complicated rules, and it’s hard for audiences to understand the sport. It requires a lot of cameras and investment to create a good TV product. This is why we have been developing inner city polo events where we reduce the space and change the rules to try and make it more relatable – in the same way that Twenty20 cricket has evolved. I think it will help to take polo to a brand new audience.
WY-LENE: Do you have any suggestions to create more awareness of the sport?
MALCOLM: It’s quite similar to drinking whisky; you have to convert people one at a time. We run these ‘Zero-to-Hero’ polo clinics where you get the chance to hold a mallet and hit the ball, so that you get a better understanding of the game. We need to be conscious about projecting the right message – why is it in India, there are 6,000 street kids who come and watch polo matches, yet in Singapore, people think it is something they cannot go and do. This barrier needs to be broken down.
WY-LENE: Does Singapore have a suitable environment to make polo a popular sport?
MALCOLM: Singapore has the perfect environment. People are looking for entertainment and different avenues to get away from their electronic devices. We need to find a way to attract them to the Polo Club by increasing off-field activities: for example, organising a night out or a family day. I spend a lot of time in Florida [Palm Beach], and every Sunday, 5,000 people show up just to watch polo. There are also half-time shows. Sports entertainment is huge in America and it’s something we need to look at.
WY-LENE: How did you end up being the Royal Salute World Polo Ambassador?
MALCOLM: In 2007, Royal Salute opened the Shanghai Polo Club and I was playing for Scotland at the Royal Salute Gold Cup. At that time, I got to know the management team very well and they were looking to invest in polo through a guy called Peter Prentice. Since I have a brand consultancy business on the side that helps luxury brands invest in polo, they [Royal Salute] asked me to come on board as an advisor and brand ambassador. This arrangement worked out perfectly… furthermore, I’m a huge whisky lover.
WY-LENE: What’s the best way to drink whisky? Some people add water, while others add ice.
MALCOLM: However you like it. Personally, I love my whisky with water. Royal Salute is a blended scotch whisky and in order to get the full experience and flavours, you need to add water. It opens the bouquet and cuts the alcohol content.
WY-LENE: What’s your all-time favourite drink?
MALCOLM: Royal Salute 38 Year Old Stone of Destiny.
WY-LENE: I heard divot stomping is a long-standing half-time tradition. Do spectators still do that?
MALCOLM: Yes. In England, the field gets torn up by the horses’ hooves so getting people to tramp down the divots is actually fundamental in the recovery process. I think Julia Roberts inPretty Woman played a part in making it famous too.
WY-LENE: From my understanding, Argentine players who play for overseas clubs are called “hired assassins” because 7 of the top 10 players in the world are Argentine. Why are they so good?
MALCOLM: At the age of 5, they have the ability to play polo 9 to 10 months a year. And polo is highly accessible there. It’s like a hotbed which inevitably creates a pool of talented players. Out of the 10,000, the cream of the crop gets jobs around the world and that is why they dominate the international circuit. They’re also very personable and love a good party, so people find them appealing as professionals to employ.
WY-LENE: What are your thoughts on Auto polo?
MALCOLM: What’s that? You strap a human to the top of a car?
WY-LENE: Everything is the same just that it’s automobiles instead of horses.
MALCOLM: Right… I would love to try it sometime. [laughs]
WY-LENE: What does success mean to you?
MALCOLM: The fulfilment of your dreams.
WY-LENE: What are you most grateful for in life?
MALCOLM: My children.
WY-LENE: Will they be following in your footsteps?
MALCOLM: I’m fairly certain they will have opportunities to try their hand at it. They’re still very young though: oldest is 4, second one is 3, and the youngest is 1. Hopefully, they will enjoy the sport like I do.