Winston Churchill once said ‘There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man’. As the 27th edition of the Delhi Horse Show comes to a close, truer words cannot be found in the course of history. More than a competition, DHS is an institution, deeply embedded in the rich history and culture of this country. The pages of history mark the first Horse Show during British rule, and the chapter post- Independence continues this rich tradition at the most prestigious grounds – those of the Red Fort. Today, as the Commandant of the 61st Cavalry and the CE of the Army polo and Riding club, it is a proud moment for my team of officers, men and me to have successfully conducted the 27th edition of the Delhi horse show. This year, the DHS was bigger and grander than ever before.
This implied putting together more than a dozen varied events, coordinating competitions for a fortnight for toddlers, children and seniors, handling and supporting more than 4,000 participants with equal warmth and administration for 500 equine athletes. As the final event of the show, the Purolator Jumping Puissance gets underway, one remembers the days of Ahluwalia and Adhiraj, regularly jumping 6ft over the Purolator red brick wall. This year we had 15-year old Sidhant Kabre from the Assam valley school jumping 1.8 m and setting a new record for young riders. Sidhant’s record is heartening, as we are secure in the knowledge that a new generation of riders is coming through to keep the tradition alive. My own association with DHS began in 1988, when I participated as a subjunior on the grounds outside the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.
I have vivid memories of walking from the Ridge to the stadium grounds as a young teenager, with crowds of commuters and passerbys gathering on the Defence Colony flyover to get a glimpse of the show. Jolly Ahluwalia and Adhiraj Singh dominated the jumping events in classical style as we youngsters looked on in awe and admiration. Those inspiring memories nurtured our strong desire to succeed and excel. Today these similar moments would inspire a whole new generation of riders. The role played by supporters, sponsors, competitors and the audience has made this event evolve manifold. The role of the Army in nurturing young riders and the Delhi Horse show can never be understated. With successive Chiefs of Army Staffs patronising this historical event the Army has been the backbone for sustaining this spectacle every year. Being the epicentre of equestrian activity in the country, DHS’ success can be measured by the fact that India convinced the organisation committe to include equestrian events as part of the 9th Asian Games in Delhi in 1982.
The first gold medal won by india in those games were in the three day event, underlying the strength of our equestrian tradition. Our eventing team has won a bronze in all editions of the Asian games thereafter. As our riders continue to strive for excellence, Olympic glory too cannot be too far away. This show is not all about taking ourselves seriously. There are events for tiny tots who venture into the sport to become ball-and-bucket winning kids, grow to become champion jumpers, to eventually parents of such kids and champion jumpers. I once heard a famous statesman say that true development of a country only takes place when both gender and art are given their due. As the only sport in the world where men and women compete together, equestrian sports encourage ladies to ride shoulder to shoulder with gentlemen, if not ahead. Anisha Sodhi was the first female rider to win the national championship on a civilian horse ‘Tiger Snow’ — another young lady, Nadia Haridas, emerged as a new star this year, as did five-year old Ananya Raje Scindia, carrying potential beyond her mere surname.
As we look back at this year’s event and start planning for the 28th edition, one cannot but admire the tremendous energy , enthusiasm and dedication of Roshan Sodhi, our regimental lady, who is the fulcrum on which rests the DHS. Jamshed Desai who’s patronage and support not only initiated but continues to support this extraordinary equestrian extravaganza and the COAS Gen VK Singh, the QMG Lt Gen M Sibal whose patronage and unstinted support has inspired us all to keep going despite all odds. All this would have not been possible without the unstinted support of our sponsors the Anand group who have committed themselves 100 per cent behind this event.
Whether one considers the Horse Show to be an equestrian ‘soft story’, a serious competitive event encompassing the talent of the entire country, a sport endeavour by the Army Polo and Riding Club or simply an art form — it requires tremendous planning, organising and overwhelming participation to keep it going year after year, and it is one more special reason that makes one proud of being an Army Officer.
— Colonel Navjit Sandhu is the Commanding Officer of 61 Cavalry