The 240-year-old President’s Body Guard is an integral part of ceremonial functions at Rashtrapati Bhavan, but that’s not all the elite unit does. The unit’s historic success in equestrian sports is once again in the spotlight.
The pages are discoloured and fragile, but the memories they hold are still vivid and recalled with conspicuous pride. In the meticulously maintained scrap books, known as digests in official parlance, the sporting glory earned by the President’s Body Guard has been recorded for posterity.
Black and white pictures and old newspaper clippings tell the stories of riders and horses who strode to success; of victorious teams that routed rivals; of ill-fated riders who got thrown off their horses; and of the kings and queens, the heads of States, who watched and cheered.
The President’s Body Guard, which is known for its integral role in State and ceremonial functions, was equally well-known for its performance on the sporting field. “It was the nursery of the country’s finest equestrian sportsmen. We’ve had Milkha Singh, the 1982 Asian Gold medallist, and Risaldar Major Sajjan Kumar to name a few,” says Lt. Col. Amit Bhardwaj, the elite unit’s second-in-command, as he oversees the riders’ practice.
That old sporting tradition is now being revived. The unit is seeking to reclaim its spot in the equestrian sports. There are training exercises twice a day, and a roadmap for participating and winning has been drawn.
At the crack of dawn, Risaldar Kuldip Singh and Risaldar Ravinder Singh make their way to the stables where Goldmine and Gulmohur await them. After a round of petting, some friendly play and feeding, they make their way to the training ground.
They are part of the teams that have won laurels in various events and will soon represent the unit at the national show jumping games.
“Horses are just like little children. They are scared and once fear grips them, it is very hard and painstaking to draw them out and get them ready for the games,” the Risaldars say. It takes about three to six years to train the horses and preparations for even the seemingly simple walk, trot, canter and gallop take hours of patient coaxing and coaching.
“We have a horse called Fariyad in our stables who has a record in jumping; in 2004 he broke a 32-year-old Puissance record by clearing 195 centimetres. Unfortunately, he got hurt at a subsequent event and has not been able to repeat his feat; his record, however, remains unbroken,” says Risaldar Kuldip Singh.
From the brass-tacks of training to diets, and health care to pairing the right rider with the right horse, every aspect of a winning combination is being attended to.
“The thumb rule is pairing a hot-headed rider with a cool horse, an older rider with a young horse and vice versa. Because if the rider cannot make the horse listen to him and do as he says, there can be no game. The rules are tough, which is why we train as hard as we can,” says Risladar Ravinder Singh. In charge of the show jumping team, he adds: “We have got everything; the onus is on us to prove our worth”.
The game of bluebloods, polo, is also being revived at the unit’s training grounds. It is no longer restricted to the officers, but is open for the troops as well.
“In the field of polo, legendary players like late Brig. V.P. Singh, Col. H.S. Sodhi and Col. Bhawani Singh as the Commandants led from the front and were the undisputed champions. In the past decade, the equestrian disciplines have taken a back seat. But an environment of competitiveness is now being recreated. The entire infrastructure has been revamped, new horses inducted and, most importantly, adequate time is being given to them to train at will,” says Commandant Tejvir Singh Mundi.
Sowar Sukhjeet Singh and Sowar Jitender Singh are part of the polo team. A chance to play the game of the royals and one that draws the crème de la crème of society is a dream come true for the two, but the opportunity to represent their unit has them more elated.
“The Commandant has given us an opportunity to learn and play polo, which we could never imagine,” says Sowar Sukhjeet Singh, proudly mounted on a pony, his mallet in hand.
“One of the aims that I had set for myself when I took over was to get the unit back on top as far as the equestrian sports in the regiment are concerned,” says Col. Mundi.
“In the past year, the unit has been given full support by the Secretary to the President to develop the sports infrastructure, as a result of which the troops have a sense of achieving and excelling in the equestrian field,” he says.
The spirit to win is pervasive and palpable and by late evening the training ground in the heart of the city is almost transformed into a battle ground with the clattering of hooves and calls for charging ahead. These men and the horses have their eyes on the prize.