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Home / EXCLUSIVES / BEYOND THE LIMITS / A lesser-known ‘Indian League’ crosses a decade- Equestrian Premier League sets a benchmark to provide breathing space in a rather chaotic Equestrian scenario

A lesser-known ‘Indian League’ crosses a decade- Equestrian Premier League sets a benchmark to provide breathing space in a rather chaotic Equestrian scenario

The show that started in 2009 with only two participating clubs, has come across these 10 years to promote itself into a high-rated event that creates, each year, a solid platform for the best talents in Indian Equestrian. The 10th Edition of Equestrian Premier League at Embassy International Riding School (EIRS) with over 12 clubs confirming their participation is acting as a catalyst for encouraging and mentoring the Equestrian riders throughout India.

Silva Storai and Jitendra Virwani

Under the able mentorship of Silva Storai, Director of EIRS, Equestrian Premier League has contributed tremendously to the progress of Equestrian in India. Proud to witness some of the finest Equestrian sportspersons, Storai declared, “The EPL started with just 2 clubs participating way back in 2009 and it is extremely fulfilling to see how the tournament take shape over the last decade. We strive to keep the passion and determination going for these young enthusiastic riders to achieve their best in this sport.”  

This year there are around 40 to 50 participants competing in the tournament. Riders from India’s top clubs like Chennai Equitation Centre, Flying Sea Stallion, United Riders Barn, Equine Dreams, Setalvad Equestrian, Ambur Equestrian Club, Royal Equestrian Academy, Red Earth Riding School, Bangalore Horse Riding School, High field Equestrian Center etc. are competing for the grand prize money of  10 lakh rupees given out at the end of the tournament. Jitendra Virwani, Chairman & Managing Director of Embassy Group said, “EPL aims at promoting talent in India and facilitate competitive events each year to get them ready for both National and International tournaments. The 10th Edition of EPL is a milestone achievement for us and similar to our earlier editions, I am sure this will be yet another magnificent year of high-quality Equestrian sports. Following the successful win at the Asian Games, we are now looking forward to win medals at the upcoming Olympics in 2020.”

India, once regarded as the land of kings and horses and elephants, has a long history in Equestrian sport. There are several inscription, carving and coins excavated from Mohenjodaro and Harappa that are considered as historical evidences of horse games and Equestrian activities during the Indus Valley Civilzation.  Our two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, have ample proof that chariot race was a favourite pastime for royal families.  

Post independence, Equestrian sport was mainly practiced by the army as civilians could not afford to own horses. The army men kept the sport alive in India and even re-established several major horse shows across the country that were halted from the time of World War II. In those shows, the army men established themselves as world-class riders who sought opportunities to compete at international events. But all international competitions were conducted by the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), located at Lausanne in Switzerland, which required participating riders in Show Jumping, Dressage or Eventing to be sent by national federations. As there was no such federation in the country, the Indian army riders were deprived of being a part of international competitions.

Fortunately, a lot of senior army officers understood the state of affairs of their juniors and hence came together to pull up the situation. General P P Kumaramangalam and Major General R.K.R. Balasubramanian became instrumental in setting up an Indian organisation that followed the rules and regulations of FEI. On March 14, 1967, the historic first meeting of India’s national federation was held where it was officially declared that the name of the organisation would be Equestrian Federation of India.

Since then, Equestrian Federation of India has been promoting this sport in India. But there has always been controversies regarding the way this sport is conducted here. Indian Equestrian scenario has been marred by inconsistent selection, lack of proper funding, quarantine issues etc. With Olympic-standard horses costing up to Rs 5 crore, not many individuals can afford to independently follow this sport unless they have an army background or is associated with a riding club. India participated only thrice in the Olympics – 1980, 1996, 2000. Imtiaz Anees was the last Olympian who competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics as he got corporate sponsorship by the Mumbai-based Five Stars Shipping.

Raghubir Singh

India’s result in the Asian Games has also deteriorated since it’s best-ever performance in the 1982 Asian Games. That year, India won 5 medals including 3 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze. In the following years, although there had been some medals won in Team Eventing and Team Dressage, individual medals dried out. It was quite surprising that India won an individual medal after 36 years at 2018 Jakarta Asian Games when Fouaad Mirza clinched silver medal in Individual Eventing. It was in 1982 that Raghubir Singh, Ghulam Mohammed Khan and Prahlad Singh finished as the top three in Individual Eventing and Rupinder Singh Brar won the gold in Individual Tent Pegging.

There has been severe discontent regarding Federation’s way of handling the team for the Asian Games. In the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, the Indian team could not participate due to quarantine issues. Less than a fortnight before an eight-member Indian team was to leave for the Games, came the news that three of the horses had tested positive for Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis, a mosquito-borne viral disease, and were barred from competition. Again, in 2014 Incheon Asian Games, the team could not participate due to selection issues. Woes hit the Indian team prior to the start of 2018 Games. The Equestrian Federation of India had selected a team in May and a day later sent out a circular declaring the selection null and void. The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) thus prohibited the Equestrian team to participate because of discrepancies in selection. Finally a seven-member team was cleared by the ministry. But as they got their accreditation only a day before they were scheduled to leave for the Asian Games, they could not appoint grooms for attending the horses that flew straight from Belgium. The grooms were not allowed to attend them as they had no clearance- a mandatory process following accreditation.

In the midst of this chaos, Embassy International Riding School has established itself as the premier horse riding school in India. For the last 10 years, it is organising the Premier League with the aim to raise the Equestrian standards in India. The tournament is an opportunity for the riders to increase their fitness and confidence levels so that they can compete internationally. This is regarded as the only tournament in India that is run as per international standards. The league is conducted over 6 months with a 2-day competition held every month from June to November. The first five riders from the first five legs compete for the final championship.

Fouaad Mirza

EPL has produced several star performers, one of them being Fouaad Mirza. In 2018 Jakarta Asian Games, apart from Fouaad’s individual silver, Team India sponsored by Embassy also won silver in Eventing. Mirza regards this premier league as a brilliant idea to nurture young talents and at the same time guide the seasoned ones about international standards. This is a landmark year for Equestrian Premier League. It has completed a decade in the circuit, is having the highest turnout with the best participating in it and aiming for the ultimate Olympics 2020.

About Poulomi Kundu

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