Bengaluru: “No matter what happens, never give up on a dream”. There aren't many people who don't dream of doing something for a cause bigger than themselves. Fouaad Mirza, the 26 year old equestrian champ from Bengaluru who snapped up a silver medal at the Asian Games is no different - and his dream is to win every top honour for his country, from here on. “There's no better feeling in the world than to prove to everyone who believed in me that it was all worth it at the end”, said a beaming Mirza, when asked to describe the euphoric moment of reaching the finish line on the track. For Mirza, every medal that comes after this will pale into insignificance - after all, he just won a medal that has been out of India's grasp for 36 long years.
The Bengalurean etched his name into the history books by clinching a silver medal at the Asian Games in Jakarta, losing out on the top honours to Japanese equestrian Oiwa Yoshiaki. Mirza was born and brought up in Bengaluru, a city which he cites as one of the most ideal cities for horse riders. Being part of a family that shares a strong association with horses for six generations, it's fair to say that the knack of riding runs in the Bangalorean's blood. "Bengaluru's weather is fantastic, we can train all year round without much of a problem. And more importantly because of the facilities available in the city, which are nothing short of world class," said Mirza.
"My friends say I'm obsessed with my sport more than anything else around me!" the silver medallist jokingly said while speaking of his love for riding. Mirza began riding horses at the age of five and began to compete by the time he was eight. He goes on to describe the importance of the rider's skill, "The rider is obviously a very integral part of the sport on the whole. It's vital to the sport also because both men and women compete on a level playing field. It is of utmost importance here, more than brute strength and physical attributes. Its skill, finesse, and technique that you have to use to ask the horse what you need of it". He reveals that doing yoga and following specifically designed training regimes are part of his routine, as flexibility and maneuverability play a massive part of riding.
Having such a long history with horses, Mirza goes on to talk about the significance of the bond that is shared between the horse and the rider. "It's a state of co-being, a relationship in which the individuals try to fit better with the each other mentally as well as physically. Two hearts and two minds working together to achieve greatness as one entity", he says, ever so enthusiastically.
The horse that helped him achieve his dream of winning a medal for his country - twelve-year-old Seigneur Medicott - is an experienced horse that he had trained with for almost a year. Mirza cites his trainer Bettina Hoy (an Olympic medalist herself) as the person who was responsible for his pairing up with Medicott, who was trained by Hoy since he was five years of age.
The equestrian reveals that his training for the Asian Games took place in Warendorf, Germany. He then makes note of the several appealing factors of training abroad as supposed to training in India, saying "most riders from Asia travel abroad to Germany, the UK and so on as they're more advanced in terms of the level of horses, level of training and level of competition. It's about going there and getting that exposure and once day coming back and utilizing that experience in India". He believes that gaining that experience and exposure will only help the sport grow in the confines of our nation. Mirza, as anyone who is as 'obsessed' with a sport in his own words, further notes the existing hurdles that equestrian sports face in India and on a global scale. "It is definitely an expensive sport", he says, "not just in India but globally. But, what we can do is look at schemes and structures of countries such as Germany, UK, Thailand, and Japan whose governments are doing something to help support the sport - and take bits of information to inculcate our own system to help our country's riders and athletes".
In a rather optimistic manner, the equestrian went on to say, "If the government does come in, I do not believe it would be a very expensive affair for them. This isn't the case only in equestrian sports and is the same as any sport in the country because that's how much potential we have as a nation". Mirza repeatedly cited Jitu Virwani and Embassy International Riding School as entities that he is grateful to for the support he has received. "If it wasn't for the Embassy International Riding School and Mr. Virwani, this sport would be dead. It is running solely off Mr. Virwani's passion for the sport", he said.
After such a remarkable achievement which has essentially put India back on the map in equestrian events, Mirza hopes that he can inspire more riders to pursue their dream of representing their country. He said laughingly, "In many cases, being 'realistic' is the fastest route to mediocrity! People can state to you all sorts of reasons as to why you can't achieve that dream. But, in truth, I myself had to think in a similarly 'unrealistic' manner to achieve these medals" - which he did in an emphatic fashion. He ended on an inspiring note, saying "It's not something that happened two or three years ago, it happened a very long time ago - at a time when people thought I was talking drivel - I had a dream that I was never going to give up on".