Scaling heights, metaphorically speaking, is something Hugh Moss has had to take in his stride from the time he could string words together.

That's because Moss has a speech impediment — something he is gradually trying to overcome with the help of people who understand and accord him the time and patience required to eloquently express himself.

So when a "really big horse", aptly named Van, was put in front of him in 2013 the then 8-year-old didn't let it overwhelm him.

"I was afraid of heights but not that height," says the 15-year-old from Fernhill in Hastings, who was at a friend's home in Tauranga.

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It's that sort of attitude and determination that has paved the way for Moss to make his first polo tournament debut at Wanstead on Saturday next week.

In doing so the No 4 player will become the first polo enthusiast from Flaxmere College to acquire an official handicap ranking.

Last season's most improved player, Moss' portfolio entails fulfilling the role of a primary defender — someone who can move anywhere on the field but usually tries to prevent the opposition from scoring while giving the No 3 some leeway to move into offensive passages of play.

"I'm excited — not nervous at all," says the teenager with a grin. "There's one thing I've learned — the more nervous you are the more badly you're going to play."

His mentor, Richard Kettle, says his willingness to learn is commendable, extending to a burning desire to hone his skills during the school holidays.

"The polo school programme has done Hugh's confidence a world of good," says polo stalwart Kettle. "He has mixed in well with club members and demonstrated an overall desire to want to learn and be good at the game."

He says the programme is indebted to the generosity and support of Trust House, Eastern and Central Community Trust, Firstlight, Masonic Trust and a cluster of loyal private individuals.

Richard Kettle, of Birchleigh Polo Club, says the school programme boosts the confidence of teenagers, thanks to the generosity and support of trusts and individuals. Photo / file
Richard Kettle, of Birchleigh Polo Club, says the school programme boosts the confidence of teenagers, thanks to the generosity and support of trusts and individuals. Photo / file

Moss will be a member of the composite team of Wirihana Kururangi from Wanstead and Birchleigh Polo Club members. He will share his two chukkas in the four-chukka affair with Clem Coates, and fellow Woodford House pupils Rosa Ellingham and Lily Nilsson, as well as Louise Gould from Birchleigh club.

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In the Flaxmere College set up for two years, he will ride Kettle's horse, Dee Dee.

"She [Dee Dee] is nice and just loves to get into the [thick] of it all," he says, itching to compete in his first big tournament.

"Richard and I had talked about me playing a couple of weeks ago."

His maiden brush with the equine world began while he was with his mother, Nicholette, and his four sisters in Tauranga as a Year 4 pupil.

Moss was watching sister Tori, now 22, ride Van when he spied an opportunity to push himself outside his comfort zone.

Needless to say, a canter in the saddle struck a chord with the former Twyford Intermediate pupil so he went the extra yard.

He offered to help the then 15-year-old Tori feed Van as well as muck out his stable.

"Van was calm, nice and just didn't mind any loud noises," says Moss who now lives with his grandparents, Annie and Temaanga Kupa, at Fernhill. "He used to just follow you around everywhere."

But that equine affinity, over two memorable years, came abruptly to an end. Moss had been in Fernhill during the school holidays only to return to Tauranga to find they had to put down the horse due to some complications.

Luckily Tori had acquired another mount, Brian, albeit not possessing the strapping stature of Van.

More conspicuously, Brian had a temperamental demeanour.

"He was a bit naughty so I wasn't allowed to ride him so Tori had to train him for about four months before I could get on," he says. However, that had equated to only three rides because Brian had tripped during one of Tori's sessions.

"He rolled over Tori and, I think, broke three of her ribs so she ended up in hospital for a while," he says, revealing his sister had persisted with the horse before selling him because of work commitments at a supermarket.

While Tori had re-ignited her passion for horses with a fellow rider, Moss had returned to Fernhill to attend Flaxmere College. It was there as a Year 9 pupil that physical education teacher Jo Lucas had asked him — at the end of term three in 2017 — if he had a penchant for riding horses and the rest is history.

"She asked me if I had played field hockey and, luckily, I had for one year."

Hugh Moss, with Felicity Charman and horse Velvet, is itching to make his big-time debut in the polo arena at Wanstead on Saturday next week. Photo / Paul Taylor
Hugh Moss, with Felicity Charman and horse Velvet, is itching to make his big-time debut in the polo arena at Wanstead on Saturday next week. Photo / Paul Taylor

So what is the difference between riding a horse and graduating to a polo player?

"I have to hold two reins, instead of one, and both of them in one hand" explains Moss.

"In the other hand I have to hold the polo stick."

It took some adapting at the time but it wasn't as challenging as trying to refine his hand-eye skills in using a mallet to connect with a chukka while steering his mount.

But Moss, who plays polo in summer and takes up indoor bowls in winter, prescribes to a potion of confidence so within a year he had started finding traction to thwart the waves of attacks oppositions were mounting.

While his Flaxmere College team have stopped playing — it didn't help that one of them injured her elbow — he intends to play polo for as along as he can, considering it helps him with his speech impediment.

While competing at elite arenas, including those overseas, will be nice, Moss finds himself gravitating towards a possible career in mentoring others who wish to take up the sport.