A boy from Sussex has had an unconventional road to success playing polo. He tells Tom James about his journey so far and shows how determination, training and gumption are the key to achieving your goals.
In July 2013 the world watched as a British man finally got his hands on the illusive Wimbledon trophy. His journey from an enthusiastic boy, armed with talent and commitment, Andy Murray has progressed to be the best in the game; proof of what young sports people can achieve if they have the will to do so. Access to a tennis court, racquet and a few balls is relatively easy, cheap, and for most aspiring youngsters it’s something many may take for granted. The same cannot be said for polo, a sport that many would argue is still considered an elite pastime, dominated by those with wealth and privilege. The costs involved in even taking part would present a big enough barrier to most. But where there’s a will there’s a way, and one of the UK’s brightest young talents is proving that the same qualities that aided Andy Murray in his journey to lift the Wimbledon trophy are ones that he, too, possesses.
Sussex-based Kian Hall is a rising star in the UK polo scene; still only 15, his progression has been rapid; a -1 handicap, a part of the prestigious ‘Stars of the Future’ programme and competing on the national stage after only two years in the sport. These are impressive enough but Kian’s humble beginnings make his progress all the more impressive. With many personal sacrifices already made by him and his mother to ensure that he has the tools to pursue his dreams.
Born and raised in Brighton, Kian came to sport by chance, aged 11. “At the time my mum (Faye Hall) worked from a business unit on a farm estate; I would help out in the summer holidays,” Kian told Fine Sussex. “I met two brothers, Lucas and Jeronimo Gahan, Argentinian pros, who kept a string of polo ponies on the same estate. They offered me a riding lesson in exchange for helping at their yard. From then on I just fell in love with the ponies and the game.” Kian’s enthusiasm for the sport is hard to disguise: “It’s the adrenalin, the speed, the eye/hand coordination,” he explains. “Horses are amazing animals, they’re so giving, they don’t talk to you but they communicate in other ways when you’re riding.” Kian’s hard work in the yard, grooming for the pros (still only 12) did not go unnoticed and his toil was repaid in kind: free lessons, access to horses to ride and two trips to Argentina to stay with the Gahan family. On-hand expertise and the chance to spend time in the country hailed as the greatest polo nation, Argentina, has proven central to Kian’s early progression but the financial realities of a sport (four ponies being a prerequisite for competition) was to pose the biggest challenge to his development.
“After time in Argentina I really wanted to start playing but the costs were too much,” he reveals. “I then found out about the Old Surrey and Burstow pony club; I could play here with just one pony.” Kian saved for nearly two years and with help from family he was able to buy his own pony. In his first year with Old Surrey, Kian performed exceptionally and it was during the Cowdray finals weekend that his next big break was to come when he was scouted by the Hurlingham Polo Association (HPA) and invited to join the HPA development programme.
The following year Sussex Polo invited him to be part of their Hipwood team, a step-up that required four ponies. “Support from a sponsor allowed me to buy my second pony, and Jeronimo Gahan came to the rescue again by loaning me two ponies and transport for the games.” This year marks Kian’s first season at Cowdray, where he’s now part of the Langford team that trains at the Sussex Polo Club. He’ll compete with two of his own horses and two on loan for the season. For a select few youngsters with their eye on the elite level there comes a time when formal education has to take a back seat. For Kian that time has come. “I am currently home-schooled but I have to go back to Blachington Mill in October to finish my GCSEs,” he added. “When I finish, my hope is to win a polo apprenticeship and travel to South Africa, Argentina or New Zealand in the winter season to play and learn how to make polo ponies.” He said: “To keep improving as a polo player you always need to reinforce and add to your game. It can become very costly, especially if you’re buying established ‘made’ polo ponies, which is why it’s so important for me to learn how to make my own young horses, to reduce costs and perhaps even one day make some money buying and selling.”
A move abroad is likely if Kian is to realise his dream of becoming professional but it’s one that hasn’t phased him. “Internationally, Argentina is the best place to be,” he insists. “They play and ride from a young age. The sport is more commonplace and the standard is very high. I want to learn from the best.” It’s unsurprising that Kian feels a pull towards South America; his early training by Lucas and Jeronimo Gahan has undoubtedly shaped his outlook. “I really look up to the Gahan brothers. I really respect and appreciate what they’ve done for me. They’ve taught me everything I know, which I’m incredibly grateful for. Household names of the sport like David Sterling, Adolfo Cambiaso and Facundo Pieres are all sources of inspiration for the young hopeful but to try and emulate those players is not what Kian wants; he recognises that his journey has been different and the graft he’s had to put in to get to where he is now has only made him more hungry.
“To succeed, I appreciate that you need the support of the HPA, patrons, professionals and the club managers. I’ve been fortunate to play with several professionals this summer – four, five and six goalers – who have all been supportive and helped enormously in my learning,” he explains. “Ultimately, if you’re a good player and work hard, the polo community respects that and wants to help you, regardless of who you are. I know I have plenty to learn but if I can keep funding it, I will keep improving. I love polo and it’ll always be in my life.”