For most athletes emerging from the lockdown, the challenge has been getting back into the best physical shape as quickly as possible. For athletes in equestrian sports, there’s the added challenge of getting their horse partners up to speed.
At Mumbai’s Amateur Riders’ Club, which reopened in the first week of July, showjumpers say they are relieved to return to partial training, but the challenge facing them and their horses is to pick up from where they left off four months ago.
Yashaan Khambatta, who created history by becoming the first Indian showjumper to reach the final round of Asian Games in 2014, explained to indianexpress.com how he is slowly building up the stamina and fitness of his 10-year-old horse Lorenzo, as they prepare for the 2022 Asian Games in China.
“Things changed quite a bit (due to the lockdown) because when you’re working with another animal, you need a constant bond with them. It’s not like other sports that suppose if you have a ball, you can practice at home,” he said in a telephonic interview from Mumbai.
“Due to the lockdown, I could not meet or even see my horses. So we have lost quite a bit of time. It takes a toll to get them back to fitness and work. Luckily, we have just opened training so we can start working again,” Khambatta said.
The showjumper generally trains six to seven hours daily, spending an hour on a different horse.
Shrenik Gada, a national-level showjumper, said the sport was about finding the right balance between the rider and the horse.
“My relationship with my horses is always working towards finding that connection and balance and taking it deeper,” he said.
Gada said the break in the hottest months of the year would have rejuvenated the horses.
“Horses are smart animals who can feel a million things. This lockdown has also given them the space to take a breather,” he said.
Khambatta said that before the lockdown he and Lorenzo were preparing for the Asian Games qualifiers set to take place next year, but they’re now months behind schedule. He said they now have to focus not just on Lorenzo’s training but health and fitness as well.
“I have to build him gradually so that there is less risk of injury. We can’t go to the gym and start off where we left three months ago so we have to build up slowly again with his strength, stamina, muscles and diet,” said the 31-year old rider.
Khambatta said he is now working on Lorenzo’s diet that includes muscle building, protein and joint supplements to help the horse build and repair muscle.
Even though there was no full-time training being held for the 150-odd horses at Amateur Riders’ Club (ARC) located at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai, the grooms would take each horse out for walks twice a day.
“They can’t be kept in a stable otherwise they are open to diseases and sickness, and it’s a big problem,” said Shyam Mehta, ARC president and polo rider.
Mehta said there hasn’t been regular training for the horses since all scheduled events have been put on hold.
“The horses are not polo-ready or competition-fit but can definitely be taken on a ride on a non-rainy day. For proper training, we’ll have to look at options, the weather needs to change, things have to ease down,” he said.
Lack of sponsorship
The ARC has also been struggling financially and heavy rains in the city flooded the race course.
“The club is virtually closed. There is no one applying for membership now. Riding is at its lowest. Things are improving slowly but gradually,” Mehta said.
Khambatta also pointed out that the absence of sponsorship for athletes makes things difficult.
“We need to have awareness of the sport in the country. When you have an investor, then sky is the limit in this sport since talent is not a problem in our country, it is the resources,” he said.
He said the biggest expenses in the sport are owning a horse, maintaining it, training and travel.
“For athletes who can’t buy trained horses, that might cost like two-three thousand euros, they need to bring him up by getting one at a young age. So that’s what I have done with Lorenzo,” said Khambatta. It’s been three years since he got Lorenzo.
There was a ray of hope for the club that came thanks to recent Netflix show ‘Indian Matchmaking’, parts of which were shot in Mahalaxmi.
“People have started enquiring on Instagram whether they can come to the club and see it. But because of the situation right now, we are not entertaining outsiders,” said Mehta.