Polo prince: Interview with Malcolm Borwick
Of drams and mallets
Malcolm Borwick has spent the past 27 years riding high as a polo player. In a ranking system that grades players on a scale of -2 to 10 (with 10 demarking the crème de la crème), Borwick's 6-goal handicap places him firmly in the league of the big boys. As one of England's leading players, the Royal Salute World Polo Ambassador continues to shuttle between his home ground and Argentina, which plays host to some of the most prestigious polo tournaments in the international polo circuit. At 38, the polo prince shows no sign of slowing down.
When it comes to polo, it helps to start young. It has to do with muscle memory. There is a 10-year window in your growth period where magic happens. If you dedicate those 10 years to training, it increases your chances of attaining a very high level at the game. It is not impossible to get into the professional ranks later in life but it becomes an awful lot harder.
We start training on ponies. I have three young children and I spend my time lifting them onto ponies. They do get bored but that's fine — it's all about sowing the seeds. If you start young enough, your body memorises things quickly and innately.
I remember very clearly the first day I ever played polo. I didn't have a clue about the game. I've grown up playing all kinds of sport — cricket, hockey, tennis, golf — and polo is a combination of these. It takes the best part of each and puts them together. So my first brush with polo was at a club north of England. They gave me a stick, the ball, and told me to just fly with it.
Growing up, polo was just a hobby. It wasn't meant to be a job. Even when I was in university, I played polo professionally in the summer so I could pay my way through school.
I have a very good relationship playing with Prince Harry. Royal Salute is probably the biggest backer of Prince Harry's charity, Sentebale, and we run an annual event with Prince Harry in favour of the Sentebale trust. I've come to realise that he doesn't play for his own enjoyment, he does it for the charity.
Ride a lot. That's the best advice anyone has given me about the sport. It's 80 per cent horsemanship and 20 per cent rider. Riding horses is the same as driving a car. Every car is different while the instructions remain the same. When you're on a horse, it's a matter of how quickly you can adjust to what each horse does well. They each have their own idiosyncrasies. You try to find that and adjust your game as swiftly as possible.
I've had three signature horses throughout my career of 27 years. One was a horse called Toto, another was an Australian thoroughbred called Duke, and my current horse back in England is called Irish. They are horses that have taken me from one point in my career to another as I moved from the amateur league to the professional ranks.
The Argentinians are the ones to watch. All of our top professional competitors are Argentinians. They play nine months a year from when they are five years old, so when they get to physical maturity, they already have a solid background in polo.
The Singapore Polo Club is a very unique venue. It's right in the city but surrounded by a lot of green. There are club restrictions in terms of people who can go down to watch the games, but hopefully that might change within the next three or four years so more people can discover the game.
I love the local food in Singapore. I pay attention to what I eat but I don't do it fastidiously. If you look at Novak Djokovic, who's very particular about what he eats, his energy levels are unbelievable. But I do love discovering local food. Everywhere I go, I try to immerse in the culture of where we are rather than go straight for the steak and chips.
As an ambassador for Royal Salute, I get to indulge in two of my favourites things: polo and whisky. It's probably not great for a professional player to say they like whisky but I grew up in Scotland and whisky has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
My favourite expression from Royal Salute is the 38 year old Stone of Destiny. All Royal Salute whiskies are blended whiskies and we age them for 21 years and more. Most single malts on the market stop at 21 years old, so we really start where other whiskies end. The 38 year old is absolutely unique. It's aged in oloroso casks to give a strong sherry smell on the nose. At the same time, it has a heart of vanilla and goes down very smooth. Each time someone sips on it for the first time, they fall in love with it.
Many think that polo is really inaccessible. It's a misconception we're trying to break down. We know it's a luxury sport and a heritage product, but we really want to encourage people to watch and play the game. One of the things we're trying to do with the Royal Salute 'Zero-to-Hero' clinic is to get people to understand that polo is doable and not something that happens 300 yards away on the other side of the field.