Aryaman Gupta with his first gold in international competition. Picture by Anindya Shankar Ray
He learnt to take the saddle even before he had learnt to walk. And now the Calcutta teen has struck gold, sitting on his "high" horse.
Aryaman Gupta, a Class XI student of Calcutta International School, won gold for India in show jumping in Seoul earlier this month. The 16-year-old represented India in the CSIJ-B event at the Seoul Olympic Equestrian Park in South Korea, held from October 9 to 11. "CSI" stands for "Concours de Saut International", a ranking system for show jumping.
"Just before I was about to start, my horse's shoe came off, so I had to go last. By then the event was almost over, but I went ahead and I was declared the winner in the first round itself, after overcoming some 16 obstacles. It all happened so fast that I did not even realise it. I was in shock for some time. When it sunk in, it was one of the best feelings. Have not felt better since," Aryaman told Metro, sitting in his Lake Gardens home, surrounded by all his medals, trophies and cups.
This is his first international gold, after a silver at the Cork Show in Ireland this summer. Aryaman also competes in dressage, though he confesses to a special fondness for show jumping. He has been riding competitively since 2010.
There are no riders in the Gupta family and Aryaman's parents, Swati and Manoj, suspect that his love for horses started during a family trip to Ooty, when his father made the toddler sit on a horse. When he returned to Calcutta, his attachment with horses was so much that his father had to take him for rides to Victoria Memorial every weekend.
"Even when he was just nine months old, he would sit on a horse very comfortably... he couldn't even walk properly then, but he could sit on a horse with ease," laughed Swati.
So, what's it about equestrian sports that draws Aryaman?
"The feeling of being able to fly while jumping with an animal that is 10 times heavier than you, and at the same time being able to direct it and tell it exactly what to do - that sense of superiority is what really got me addicted," said Aryaman, who now has his sights set on the 2018 Asian Games.
Though show jumping is an Olympic sport, Aryaman doesn't have the five coloured rings on his radar at the moment. "I am not thinking about the Olympics right now because it requires a lot of training and the infrastructure in India for this sport is a major issue, primarily because it is an expensive sport, as a result of which most of our coaches are going abroad."
Training in Calcutta is even tougher. He practises daily at Tollygunge Club from 5am to 6.30am but it's a solitary exercise. His coach, Nitin Gupta, lives in Bangalore and Aryaman has to keep travelling to the Equestrian Centre of Excellence there for his training. "He has been my coach for three years now. Initially I went there almost every month. I have spent all my holidays in Bangalore," said Aryaman, who names Canadian show jumper Eric Lamaze as his inspiration.
In between galloping to international glory, Aryaman is also acing his studies. "He got all A-pluses in his IGCSE Class X. Even in Class XI, he is pursuing a challenging curriculum with chemistry, physics, maths, biology and English," said his proud mother. His school has been very encouraging, granting him leave to participate in out-of-town events and also to practise before competitions, Aryaman added.
Other than winning medals and accolades, Aryaman loves adventure sports like mountain biking, trekking, bungee jumping, white-water rafting, rock climbing and surfing. And playing pranks. "Once on a school trip, we put mint toothpaste on the hotel toilet seat so that when someone would sit, he or she would have a really good experience," grinned Aryaman, giving us a glimpse of the naughty boy that lurks behind the spunky champion.