For those not thrilled by the sound of golf club on ball, there’s always the thunder of hooves to look forward to at The Tollygunge Club.
“Horse riding has been a traditional sport at Tollygunge Club dating back over 100 years. For quite some time we have been producing riding champions who qualify at both national and international levels,” said A.R. Mukerji, the club CEO and managing member, on the sidelines of the Tolly Horse Show, at the end of January. Having hosted the Junior National Equestrian Championship, organised jointly with Fort William Riding and Polo Club in December 2010, the club hopes to host the championship once again.
The recent wins at the Junior National Equestrian Championship (JNEC) 2012, Bangalore, was a high for the club boys. Show jumping and horsing around, the young guns had the crowd rooting for the city boys as they tackled one hurdle after another.
Now home to 40-odd horses, Tolly has a riding club and an instructor, besides experienced and senior riders who are always there to guide young members.
But dearth of trained instructors is a problem. “There is a lack of vision at the macro level. The cities have fantastic sporting facilities, like in Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Calcutta… but all the satellite towns need to be connected. People take riding way too casually and most children actually leave the sport after a certain point to focus on other careers. A lot of talent is going to waste… not just of riders but also coaches,” said Brigadier Gyan Puri, the vice-president of development with Equestrian Federation of India and a former national champion in show jumping.
So do the young riders get proper training at the club? “Yes they do. I have personally trained three boys in 10 days and helped them win championships. But even then, the lack of good coaches and schoolmaster horses are affecting our new riders. Riding is considered a serious profession abroad. But here parents don’t think it is reasonable to spend more than Rs 1,000 on training for horse riding. If there is no money, how can there be good coaches? Moreover, not all riders can become good coaches,” said Lt. Col. Shailendra Singh of the 61st Cavalry, the only mounted regiment in the world.
But for the young riders on the gallop at Tolly, all that matters is the bond between the horse and the rider, and the need for speed.
“The history of the Tollygunge Club and equestrian sports goes back a long way. I have heard that it was originally a riding club, golfing came much later. In fact, there used to be a race track around Tolly and it allowed races up to 600 metres. We hosted the Junior National Equestrian Championship in 2010, which was said to be one of the best-conducted nationals. We are looking forward to supporting the nationals once again in the winter of 2013,” said Club president Srikumar Menon, an avid golfer who shares the same enthusiasm for riding, despite never having sat on horseback
Pictures: Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya