Six generations since Ali Asgher came to India from Iran in 1824, his horse-loving family from Bangalore sired for the country its long-awaited Eventing medal in Equestrian. The youngest rider of the family, Fouaad Mirza, won a sighing silver at the Jakarta International Equestrian Park, missing gold after nicking one hurdle. India last won an individual medal in Equestrian in 1982 when India hosted the Asiad with army Dafedaar Raghubir Singh of Mounted Corps having led a 1-2-3 at Delhi. The country has picked a couple of bronzes in the team championship at Busan and Doha a dozen years ago, but the recently controversy-riddled sport in India had long lusted after an individual medal.
Fouaad (named as a lion-heart) could’ve made this a sensational Sunday winning a gold, but dropped his second jump astride German gelding Seigneur Medicott, a gorgeous dark bay of the famed D’Alleray pedigree. The solitary jumping fault that cost him a penalty will haunt Fouaad for a long time.
Having trained in Germany to nail the long-elusive medal, he had been leading going in from qualifications. But Mirza had worked hard to realise a medal that means much to his horse-breeder family who own a stud-farm back home. Jitu Mavnani of Embassy, the sponsors, would change the colour of the sport, with a horse budget of 3 million USD. For Fouaad though, it all started at home.
“It’s in the last 6 generations. Horses – I can’t get them out of my system. Even if I didn’t like them, I think I’d still have gotten here. It’s in my blood,” he would say. If his young son hadn’t hit the straddle Hasneyn Mirza would’ve been disappointed, he said adding that Fouaad had won his first race as a 10-year-old. ‘Special rider’
A boy who could describe every race furlong by furlong, father Hasnyn had noticed that he had a special rider in the family. “My first race was a blur! I remember going riding with him once in the morning and in the evening telling him that this horse would win you your first race. He just looked up and said – this is not the same horse. I was a trained eye, but his understanding at that young age told me he would go a long distance,” Hasneyn adds. On Sunday – save for the single fall – Fouaad would serve up a brilliant dressage and give a good account in cross country (Needing to come in 7:36 seconds, he would achieve it in 7:27.) Fouaad’s horse, which was first raced by Olympic medallist Betina Hoi, isn’t the easiest to race. He can go on the boil and go over the top, galloping away. “But he’s the main athlete in Equestrian,” Fouaad would say of the German strapping horse. “We just reap the glory.”
It had been a hard challenge for the horses who flew into hot draining Jakarta. “He stayed fresh to race. He didn’t give up on me though I know it was tough for him,” Fouaad would say, after combining with the horse since last October. “I had asked him to do the unbelievable. I had to ensure it was always an “ask” not a “demand,” he would add.
Fouaad had grown to like the horse that got India the long-desired medal at Asiad. “He’s good-looking like me,” he would say. On the broken second fence, he would add, “I had decided I’ll deal with the course like one fence is one question. Never mind the fall, a silver has come,” he’d say.
In Germany, Fouaad would look after his horse 7 days a week. “Early start, late finish always. Most days it was just a sandwich on the go for lunch, because horses are tough work – feeding, walking, cleaning stables, unpacking them, working the paddock,” he’d describe.
A European Championship former winner, Seigneur Medicott, came for a steep price, as did the other three French horses that helped India also win a team silver.
Back at home, Fouaad had always been the bolder of two brothers – as well as talented and with an innate feel for horses. A perfectionist when it came to horses, an angry bird away from the paddock, he’d formed a good bond with his horse. “Many people have money, not all people can work hard and have the confidence on a horse,” said trainer Radolphe Schener of the 26-year-old rider. His brother Ali, a vet aquine, would chip in with his expertise. “My brother breaks horses, I fix them,” he’d joke. Together the Mirzas would do what the family does best: win on a horse.