Horse-riding gains new ground in Pune
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Who is your partner in sports—10 times your body weight and 25 times your strength?” asks Rohan More, managing director of the Japalouppe Equestrian Centre in Shankarwadi, Pune, which he runs with his mother Lorraine.
The answer: horses. An equine companion who teaches you not only mental discipline, leadership and patience, but also commitment and bonding. Literature and legend are full of examples, from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty to Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. In India, the loyalty and heroism of Maharana Pratap’s steed Chetak has been the stuff of ballads.
Riding has a long and proud history in India but it has till now mostly been the preserve of the very wealthy.
Today, however, more and more children from upper-middle-class families are taking riding lessons—not just in the traditional centres of Mumbai and Delhi, but also cities like Bengaluru and Pune.
Mumbai and Pune have, in fact, emerged as the nuclei of horse-riding academies in Maharashtra. The well-known centres in Mumbai include the Amateur Riders’ Club, next to the Mahalaxmi Race Course, and The Ride to Live Academy at Bhiwandi, with Arjuna awardee Col (retd) Ghulam Mohammed Khan as one of the trainers. In Pune, seven riding schools are well established.
Military schools such as the AISSMS Shri Shivaji Preparatory Military School (SSPMS), near the Pune railway station, and the Netaji Subhashchandra Bose Boys’ Military School (NSBBMS) at Wagholi have riding classes as part of their curriculum.
Pune’s stud farms and equestrian schools have benefited from the city’s cool weather—it’s more suited to horses than Mumbai’s humid weather, says More.
Given the presence of stud farms like the Poonawalla, Ruia, Equus Stud, Manju Meadows and Nanoli, there is a growing need for trained veterinarians. “The Indian Association of Equine Practitioners is headquartered in Pune, so help is easily available for us horse owners,” says More, whose centre owns 57 horses. Overall, however, he adds, there is a shortage of vets who are knowledgeable about horses.
At Japalouppe, a 19-year-old riding academy, More offers programmes designed for both adults and children. “Age is no bar to learn the sport; it is all in the mindset. If you are physically fit with no skeletal issues (primarily back, knee, elbow, ankle joint problems), you are good to go,” he says.
“I trained a 60-year-old lady from the UK and a 56-year-old man from Pune—age is just another number,” says Kushal Indrekar, who has been running the Zurick Equestrian Club at Kharadi and Bavdhan for a decade. Indrekar acquired a love for horse-riding during his school days at SSPMS.
Sanyogeeta Kadu, an engineering graduate, trained under Col (retd) G.M. Khan and has been riding for 12 years. She set up the Ceddar Equestrian Centre in Shikrapur around two years ago after undergoing short training courses overseas. “Children from Delhi Public School, Pune, come here for training during vacations. I also lease my horses (she owns five and stables four owned by others) to kids for various events that they participate in,” she says. A six-day course of 10 sessions at her centre costs Rs8,000.
Currently, Kadu is preparing for a show-jumping event that the Fédération Équestre Internationale is scheduled to hold in Bengaluru in November.
More, who charges Rs1,200 an hour per rider, runs the most expensive horse-riding school in Pune. His classes are not just about riding, he says. “Riders are expected to get their hands dirty while learning the sport. This is required for holistic training.” So, they are taught to bathe the horses, pick the droppings, clean the stable, and saddle and bridle the horse.
Camps for children are held during the summer, Diwali and Christmas vacations—for instance, the summer vacation camp has 10 sessions spread over six days. Certificates are awarded after written and oral examinations.
In recent years, there has been a greater focus on grooming students and horses for competitions. State bodies like the Maharashtra Equestrian Association, dormant from 2007-14, have gained some momentum. The Junior National Equestrian Championship was held at the National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla in 2015. State-level equestrian championships were held at the NSBBMS and Japalouppe Equestrian School in 2016 and 2017, respectively. The level of seriousness in this field can be gathered from the fact that grooming horses for competitions is expensive business; it can set you back by around Rs50,000 a month, including maintenance and training.
Mumbai-based Hriday Chheda, 18, trained at the Japalouppe centre, starting when he was just 6. In 2012, he moved to Bengaluru, training at the Embassy International Riding School for four years under the guidance of Ajai Appachu, who has represented India internationally. Since 2013, he has been attending training camps in Germany every summer and winter. “Currently I am being trained by Emile Faurie, an international dressage rider in Milton-under-Wychwood in the UK. There is no social life in this village but I enjoy my time walking, grooming and grazing my horse when I am not training,” he says.
Though Chheda started with show-jumping, today he is inclined towards dressage, and is preparing to compete in the 2018 Asian Games to be held in Indonesia. In show-jumping, you have to clear an obstacle course of 12-14 fences, while dressage is a rhythmic, graceful “dance” performed by the horse, which has to be guided through a series of predetermined movements.
Riding schools in Pune have been conducting small-scale contests through the years, creating a platform for riders to hone their skills. Academy owners too are involved in training horses, working towards the skill development of instructors. “Building a better ecosystem for the betterment of the riders is the need of the hour,” says More.
Despite the buzz, however, Pune hasn’t so far been able to organize the kind of traction that cities like Bengaluru and Delhi have, with their regular horse shows, including show-jumping, dressage, eventing, tent-pegging and polo. “You can start your horse-riding career in Pune but to learn the advanced techniques you need to move your base to Bengaluru,” says Chheda.
“Probably,” he adds, “we need to keep winning in the international arena like our Indian cricket team so that there is more awareness about this sport.” Sponsorship and infrastructure would follow.
Horses and India
Horses, used for transportation, hunting and for drawing chariots, have long held a special place in Indian history.
India is home to handsome indigenous breeds like the Marwari war horses, bred and patronized by the Rajputs; the Kathiawaris of Gujarat; the Sindhi; Manipuri polo ponies; the Spiti and the Zanskari. In her book Horse Racing In India: A Royal Legacy, Lynn Deas says Chandragupta Maurya had a cavalry of 80,000 indigenous and foreign-bred horses.
In the 17th century, Marathi and Central India light horse cavalries were crucial to the success of the guerrilla warfare waged by the forces of Shivaji, and helped establish the Maratha empire.
Horse-riding as a sport was popular with the Mughals. But the animal began to be used more commonly for sport and transportation among the Indian royalty and the colonialists during the British Raj.
The first racecourse in India was set up in Madras (now Chennai) in 1777. By 1799, English horses had made their way to Indian racecourses. The results of the races held at the Bengal Jockey Club in Calcutta (now Kolkata), which threw open its doors in 1803, used to be published regularly in the British press.
Equestrian schools in Pune
Ceddar Equestrian Centre
Shikrapur Road, Jategaon Khurd
Netaji Subhashchandra Bose Boys’ Military School