For Love of The Equestrian Sport

What is success? Is it a million dollar contract? Admission in IIT Mumbai? A job with Google? Launching your own tech app during a recession? A gold medal in a sporting event?

And what is failure? Is it 30% on a school final exam? Rupees 20,000 sales on a 20 lakh target? No job after campus placements? Being laid off in a recession? Finishing last in a race at a sporting event?

Big questions that everyone faces and big questions that have very different answers for all of us. Answers that are influenced by the values that are instilled in us by family during upbringing, the notions drilled into us by our educationists, lessons we learn as we grow and experience the world, and our personal drive.

These are also matters that can be and are often addressed by institutions and people that are focused on providing an alternative educational experience, institutions like Japalouppe Equestrian Centre in Talegaon, near Pune.

Today, February 9, 2020, is the last day of the three-day Annual Equestrian Games 2020 hosted by Japalouppe. And it’s been an engrossing, exciting and extraordinary event with 165 riders from 7 riding teams from Maharashtra competing in several events in 6 categories. Said to be the biggest equestrian tournament in Maharashtra, it’s been an education watching these events to say the least.

The competition in Dressage and Showjumping events was intense. The gymkhana events (Pole Bending, Ball n Bucket, Trot Race) were entertaining. The Showjumping Challenge was exciting.

Watching the children who are participating, I could easily imagine that being a part of equestrian sports is as big a life lesson as any other. The commitment to the sport is extraordinary among all the participants, from 7-8 year olds to 20 year olds who are competing against seasoned riders. It’s a huge opportunity for coaches and trainers to compete as well – a very big challenge since most of their time is really spent mentoring their young wards, leaving precious little saddle time for their own events.

I watched as a 15 year old was thrown off by a petulant horse, falling hard on the soil, getting up disqualified, upset, but walking back to cheer her team mates and other riders a while later. A little later another rider, discounted and walked off dejected after his horse refused to take a single jump on a show-jumping event – only to bounce back a while later to stand and applaud the efforts of other participants. A little 12-year-old girl knuckled down and managed to stay focused to turn in a superb ride at the end of a long day. A senior coach got a huge round of applause for staying on a horse that was bucking and kicking, taking no jumps. This sport is a great leveller – the connection between horse and rider and the fatigue and the atmosphere are all unpredictable and mutual respect and understanding gives a different meaning to success and failure. Staying on a horse that doesn’t want to jump and taking one jump is success as big as a medal. Falling off and coming back for the next event is success. Not being able to take a fall or mistakes in your stride is the only failure. And the community of fellow riders – cutting across teams – is standing together to help each other over come that as well.

The horses are of equal measure. Some of them are serene, majestic and turn in good performances event after event. Some are feisty little horses with big hearts and go head-to-head – and often triumph over – larger thoroughbreds and warm bloods. Other horses are temperamental, testing themselves and their riders on a whim, unpredictable as the wind, deciding on a perfect round in the morning and a recalcitrant stubborn roller coasting in the afternoon. Yet others are happy to be in the arena, eager to jump, and run on and on.

Three rides that stood out for me over the first two days were as follows:

1. The Showjumping round of Abbas of Amateur Riding Club, Mumbai in the Open Category

2. The Topscore round by Kashish Bajaj of Japalouppe in the Open Category

3. The overall composure and skill of 12-year-old Naomi of the Amateur Riding Club, Mumbai

Meeting riders and trainers from different clubs, observing their camaraderie, I realised that Riding Schools and Clubs are like families and those involved with equestrian sports are a community. Japalouppe, for its part, has a dedicated focus on educating more and more children in this sport – theory, riding, and whole education as a life-skill. Founded by Rohan More (CO-founder Lorraine More), Jap (as it is fondly called) is spread across 11 acres and is home to 69 horses, making it one of the largest private equestrian centres in India.

You can visit Japalouppe on any day to learn more about the sport, take riding lessons, pony rides, enrol for riding camps (they also have a petting farm for children to interact with birds, turtles, ostrich, sheep, rabbits, pigs, Emus, among other farm animals).

For further information visit: Japalouppe.

(Photos by Vinod Hanchate.)

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