Julian assessing his team's strategy, looking to improve it every chukker, at IPC Palm Beach.
Polo Coach. Former England Polo Captain, 9-goaler.
At the U.S. Open Polo Championship, we were pleased to meet up with Julian Hipwood. Julian does not fit the conventional image of a modern polo player. Charming, self-effacing and erudite, he entertained us with his adventures of polo life – captured here in the first of two interviews.
Julian is a legendary polo player. Captain of the England National Team for nineteen years, he won the Coronation Cup six times, along with the British Gold and Queen’s Cup. A running two-year finalist in the Argentine Open, he received a standing ovation in 1978. Julian is the first foreigner and Englishman to reach the Argentine Final, the most coveted tournament in polo. Now a sought after polo coach, we speak to Julian about his career and sportsmanship, as he views it today.
You and your brother, Howard Hipwood, are renowned for being England’s highest goal polo players since WWII. Can you tell us how you came into the sport?
I didn’t start hitting a ball until I was fourteen, at the local Pony Club. I was eighteen when I was invited to join a professional outfit.
I played with my mentor, Rao Raja Hanut Singh, who started me on the road to my adventurous life. I was with him for a few years, and he actually made me cry; he was never satisfied with anything I did.
Speaking to the person who looked after him, I said, I don’t know if I can keep on. She said, You’ve got to keep on, because the reason he’s shouting at you, and not ever satisfied, is that he thinks you have talent to go somewhere. The people who he’s given up on, he won’t even say anything to. So I took that as an incentive to keep persevering and traveling, just for my expenses being paid.
Hanut Singh never said well done until I was a 6-handicap. Only then he said, Now, you’re a polo player.
As Captain of England’s polo team for two decades, you’ve been referred to as a British polo legend. Who were some of the greats that you fondly remember?
I’ve played in over twenty-five countries and met such wonderful people, in the most spectacular places.
The moment I heard the news of Prince Philip’s passing, it really saddened me. I sat there and reflected on the days when I first went to Windsor Park; I played against Prince Philip, at eighteen or nineteen years old. It was right at the beginning of my career, because then, I think he only played for a short time thereafter.
His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh was a good player. He rode and he galloped with the rest of them, and he was treated just the same as everyone. He raised greater awareness for the polo sport.
Juan Carlitos Harriot was the best polo player I was ever up against. From Argentina, he was the true legend – a 10-goaler for twenty-five years.
Share a fond memory from your time playing in England.
Some of my best games, or remembering my better days, were playing in the Coronation Cup each year. I did that for twenty years. Meeting the Queen made it a hallmark experience.
This included being presented to the Queen and having tea on numerous occasions in her private Clubhouse, afterwards. Located at the center of Ground 1 at Guards Polo Club, Windsor, we’d have the odd chat and talk about the game.
What do you think makes polo so elegant in spectator’s minds?
Polo is a beautiful sport because of the horse and player’s power, and agility, at full speed. White britches, brown boots and the shiny coats of the horses make it all to be a wonderful experience. For the bigger tournaments, individuals are fashionably turned out; they dress for the occasion.
Her Majesty The Queen presents Cartier's Pegasus Trophy for MVP at the Coronation Cup, 1984.
In your opinion, which craftsmen make the best saddles, bridles, mallets and boots?
Saddles: Gray's Polo, Old Westbury
Bridles: As long as it's good English leather
Mallets: Tato's, Wellington
Polo Boots: Fagliano, Buenos Aires
Polo player, Oscar Lujan, said, siempre caballero en la cancha. In English, always be a gentleman on the field. What does this mean to you?
I played in the spirit that the sport should be played. One hundred per cent to win, yet conceding defeat as a gentleman. I was featured in an article, entitled A Gentleman of Polo. When interviewed, they asked me, if given a Jaegar-LeCoultre watch, what would I put on the back of it? Manners maketh man.
Images courtesy of Julian Hipwood.