Love Island star and sucker for all things equine Chris Hughes has discovered he is a natural-born polo player after picking up a mallet for the very first time.
Trained by top Chinese polo player Duncan Qiu for just a single afternoon, the cheeky reality TV star looked as though he had been playing the sport of kings for years and is keen for a second crack at the whip now.
Qiu will be leading the Shanghai team competing at Chestertons Polo in the Park from Friday 7 June until Sunday 9 June in Fulham’s Hurlingham Park and was full of praise for Chris after his first training session.
“When I was watching Chris, I was thinking – this guy is a natural – because he didn’t seem to be thinking too much about the riding,” said Qiu.
“Polo is about having a partnership with your horse and you don’t really ride them, you work with them – that is the beautiful thing about polo.
“When we finished training I had a lot of respect for Chris because he seemed so confident and he picked it up very quickly.
“The hardest part of the sport is to train your mind because you can be riding at more than 50mph sometimes and that horse is not a machine, it is very much alive too.
“You have to make sure everything is perfect before you can hit that ball and Chris was doing that.”
Chestertons Polo in the Park is one of the largest and most popular polo tournaments in Europe combining world-class sport in the perfect setting of sunny champagne gardens with fantastic food and music.
And just like Chris, Qiu has been riding horses since he was a small boy and remembers climbing up onto a horse for the very first time while his jet pilot father was based in Mongolia.
The Chinese player has gone on to become one of the most recognisable faces in the sport by wearing a unique patterned mask every time he plays.
Qiu dedicates himself to raising the profile of the sport back in China and likens the way the sport is played to the ancient battle techniques used by Samurai warriors.
“When I was 16 years old I found out that polo originated from China and that is why I initially got involved in the sport,” said Qiu.
“I set about becoming a professional and wanted to bring about some more identity to the sport for China and represent my culture.
“Polo is now a massive hit in China again and when I play it I feel like a warrior.
“There is no face protection in our sport I wear the mask to protect my face but also there is not much identity in polo.
“Polo is a bit like a war or a battle, so it gives me my own identity, people call me the ‘Mask Man’ when I wear it and it has a different decoration in every game I play so that helps to keep it unique.”
There are three games taking place each day at Chestertons Polo in the Park, with six cities from across the world represented and Qiu can’t wait to get involved and show London what he is all about.
“I am really excited about it because Chesterton’s Polo in the Park is one of the most amazing tournaments in the world,” he added.
“Polo needs to be more accessible to the public and that is what these events provide.”
- Chestertons Polo in the Park 7-9 June, Hurlingham Park, London to book tickets visit www.polointheparklondon.com