`The horse is not a mobike'

RIDING HIGHJacqueline Kapur and Silva Storai with the loves of their lives.

RIDING HIGHJacqueline Kapur and Silva Storai with the loves of their lives.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: MURALI KUMAR K.

Silva Storai and Jacqueline Kapur take people for a ride - in the best sense of the phrase. Both are passionate about horses and, while they're glad the south is leading the way in equestrian sport, they feel much more could be done

Italian-born Silva Storai is India's only professional woman jockey and runs the Embassy International Riding School in Bangalore. German-born Jacqueline Kapur is the founder of Red Earth Riding School in Pondicherry. They have come together in the city for the Junior National Equestrian Championship (JNEC), spread over a fortnight to include various disciplines of equestrian sport like Dressage, Show Jumping, and Tent Pegging. Over 200 horses and top-level Indian riders and international teams have been participating in the event that is on till December 30. The two women are passionate about their horses and have come a long way from their early days and home countries to promote the sport in India. They talk to BHUMIKA K. with great zeal about these four-legged creatures that command their love and respect and how they are struggling to literally leap over their problems. Jacqueline: I started when I was nine and my neighbour had a pony. And in Germany every little child rides at some stage. I've never stopped since. Silva: I started at 13. No one in my family liked horses. Horse riding was a real adventure. I started getting serious when I came to India in 1979. J: I cleaned my neighbour's windows to pay for riding lessons. But it's so much of a passion that you go though all sorts of things to be able to ride. I didn't have enough money to afford my own horse, so I was riding others' horses. At one point I swore I would start riding again only when I had my own horse. So when I settled in India, the first thing I did was buy one, in 1990. Is the sport too limited and elitist? J: Definitely there's a problem because of cost. But if you really want to do it, you can. In fact at Red Earth, we even sponsor passionate children who can't afford it, and we are talking with the Ministry of Education, Pondicherry, for sponsorships. S: Only people with passion and fire can get there. It's extremely tough to become a jockey. It was extremely tough to set up this school finally in 1996. It's a lot of work. You need vision. And you need similar-minded people to make a difference to this sport. Women and horses - that special connection J: With a man, in competitions and show jumping, there's a bigger ego problem involved. Men force horses to do things. A woman asks nicely. In the long run, that is more successful way of training a horse, a child, a husband... ( Both laugh) S: This, by the way, is the only sport in the world where men and women compete equally, which tells you that the real athlete is the horse! In any sport, it's assumed that men are stronger than women. The first thing that comes to men is strength. So if a horse troubles them they use it. The first thing that comes to women is to work out a deal. And if you can get an in-between, of a man with a woman's understanding, you've got the best rider in the world. Ninety-five per cent of time men overuse their strength. But a man with woman's intuition will succeed. J: There are quite a few men who have that. You have to work as a team. You have to be in charge because the horse is a flight animal. It has to feel secure with you. S: And definitely dominated too. They have a very set hierarchy. And if you don't control, he'll take advantage... The sport is catching on here S: That was the idea of setting up the school. It was to set a completely different standard, a new language and build a strong foundation, and a confidence with knowledge, for children to do their own training, nurture talent and build a spirit of horsemanship. The horse is not a motorbike. It's something you've got to respect. The sport is picking up... but you can't make money with a riding school! J: There's an old saying: "How do you make a small fortune with horses? Start with a big fortune." (Both laugh) S: The promising bit is that people are willing to put in money from their successful businesses for the benefit of a new sport. In India, the south is leading in the sport, especially in the civilian sector. Till now the Army has been dominating the equestrian scene. Only the Army gets the good horses bred in the country. Civilians have to make do with rejected ex-race horses, which are not equestrian. They have been bred to race, gallop; not to jump or do dressage. It's unfair. It's time a big pool of sports horses are made available equally. In Europe, till the '50s and '60s, army and police dominated the equestrian sports. ( Together they list major schools in south India - Red Earth (Pondicherry) Embassy, ECE, Princess (Bangalore), CEA, MRS, (Chennai) RM Farms (Coimbatore) - all sponsored by civilians.) J: We've got our act together and have started small regional competitions; otherwise both the horse and rider don't get much exposure. We started the South Indian Equestrian Association in 2001. S: It needs more exposure from the press, to be seen by the public. They love putting pictures of people falling off horses! There is a lot of ignorance. J: I'm having a show in February and have been speaking to big event managers. They say equestrian sport is now where golf was five years ago. If there are viewers, there are sponsors. Equestrian is still a lifestyle sport. But we have come far... S: Yeah, from say 10 years ago. We had people coming to competitions in any pant and shirt - it was in a primitive stage. It took the first five years for groomed horses to come in, for horses and riders with a presence to come in. From '96 we had our local shows. Today we have fully equipped schools What keeps them going J: It's an addiction S: It's a necessity to be around horses... like the need to be with beautiful people. Who needs anything else in life? They replenish the energy you invest in them. They give back... . J: It gives you so much energy. Unfortunately the sport has not caught on in India yet - it's such a boon for kids who are autistic, hyperactive, juvenile criminals, or those with learning disabilities. Imagine a 20-kilo kid on a 500-kilo animal. This overcoming of fear becomes a positive experience and it transforms to other aspects of their life too. In fact Churchill said: "If you want to make your son a gentleman, buy him a horse." Why do this in India? J: I love India more than Germany... and it's the challenge of building something from the start. S: India is the best country in the world. With the right equipment, training and right horses, the sport will change in a big way. J: And it's the healthy spirit of competition that I like in the south. S: Yeah, we all share a camaraderie because we all almost started together, and are on the same wavelength. We know what the other has gone through to raise the bar. And we are both women... ( They laugh) J: And it's really the passion, you know. I mean I often say: "I met the man of my dreams and he's got four legs!" S: Yeah. You absolutely fall in love with the horse. ( She makes a sighing, moony face) J: And mind you, we have real nice men in our lives, yet we say this! ( Both laugh)

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