BRIEF HISTORY OF EQUESTRIAN FEDERATION OF INDIA
After Independence, few civilians could afford or even have access to horses, and it was the Army that kept equestrian sport alive in India, albeit on a smaller scale than before the Second World War. When some of the big horse shows were re-established in the 1950s, army riders began to do particularly well in show jumping, so much so that they fancied pitting their skills against foreign riders and competing abroad. However, international competitions were now controlled by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), the world equestrian body which had been established 1921. Riders were not allowed to compete in international classes in show jumping, dressage or eventing unless they were sent by their National Federation. Since no such federation existed in India something needed to be done, and so the Army stepped in to form the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI).
Fortunately, at that time there were a lot of senior army officers who were very knowledgeable about equestrianism and who also had a lot of enthusiasm for the sport, so they were able to move things forward”. The main instigator in the founding of India’s National Federation was General P P Kumaramangalam, the chief of the Remount and Veterinary Corps, based at Meerut near Delhi. A modest man, he did not even put himself forward for a formal post within the new EFI when it was formed, but there is no doubt that he was the prime mover behind its inauguration. As his daughter, Roshan Sodhi, recounts: “He was absolutely crazy about horses. He was brought up with them in a very old, aristocratic family, and was educated at Eton and Sandhurst [in England]. He realised that India needed to join the FEI; it needed to follow the rules and regulations and to register itself as part of the international scene. Because of his background, he was able to make use of his contacts and friends in England who were influential people in the FEI, and I think this helped to get our National Federation established.” On March 14, 1967, the historic first meeting of India’s national federation was held. “The Birth of the National Equestrian Federation of India” was announced officially with the following objectives:-
(a)     To give the federation/equestrian activities a National Status and bring them in par with other National games associations
(b)    To enable participation in world equestrian competitions, as the Federation Equestre Internationale only accept competitors sponsored by National Organisations and not by individual clubs.
(b)    To encourage, improve and develop all branches of equitation and equestrian events excluding Polo and Racing.
(c)    To promote equine breeding and care and management of equines.
(d)    To organise National Equestrian meets and coordinate all equestrian competitions now held in different states/zones.
(e)    To finance and support veterinary research in equine breeding, medicine and surgery as is being done in many foreign lands.
(f)    To standardise rules, regulations for all equestrian meets and maintain records.
(g)    To obtain and disseminate all useful information and knowledge about equines and equitation.
(h)    To finance and support equestrian meets and obtain monetary support from the Government.
(j)    To liaise and affiliate with National Sports Council and Indian Olympic Association and obtain due recognition for the federation and for all it stands for.
The officers and committee of the National Equestrian Federation of India on 14th March, 1967
President         -         Lt Gen M S Wadalia (Retd)
Vice President Vice President         -        Mr S G Swaminadhan (Secretary Madras Riding Club)
Chairman         -        Maj Gen E Habibullah (Ret’d)
Hon Secretary         -         Lt Col P Z Kothavala, RVC
Treasurer        -         Lt Col Th Kishen Singh, RVC
Members         -        Brig J D Kapur (DRVS Army HQ) Mr M N Kapur (Principal Modern School, New Delhi)
Born on August 6th, 1922, Gen Malhotra joined the army in January 1941 and started his career in one of the many animal units of a mountain regiment. Within each battery of his regiment about 10 horses were kept to control the mules, so the General soon learnt how to ride and look after horses. “We used to have show jumping tournaments and even dressage, of sorts, between the regiments”, he recalls. “It brings back some very happy memories for me”. He was rapidly promoted, and soon became the only Indian officer in his regiment (the rest being British at this time). Later, as Chief of the Army, Gen Malhotra took on the Presidency of the EFI, and with vision, authority and some serious negotiating skills, he brought India’s fledgling equestrian federation to the notice of the wider international scene. After the success of the 1982 Asian Games, when Indian riders scooped three gold medals, a silver and a bronze, Gen Malhotra then persuaded the organising committee of the National Games in India to include equestrianism in its programme, thus bringing the EFI closer to the Olympic family and into the heart of Indian sport.
Maj Gen R K R Balasubramanian was also deeply involved with India’s role in the AEF, first as the author of its constitution and then as president for two terms of office. He was asked to do a third term, but refused - it was, after all, he who had written in the constitution that each president could only do two, four-year tenures. So instead, the AEF made him a vice president for life, the only person in the AEF’s history to be honoured in this way. In 1980, the EFI sent equestrian competitors to the Olympic Games for the first time. (These were held in Moscow, and were boycotted by the Americans and by many European nations.) A team of eventers – Lt J S Ahluwalia (riding Shiwalik), Hussain Khan (Rajdoor), Mohammed khan Khan (I-Am-It) and Darya Singh (Bobby) – became the first riders ever to represent India at an Olympics, but unfortunately none of them completed the gruelling cross country phase. India’s riders continued to gain international experience and its judges and officials became increasingly knowledgeable of the FEI rules and regulations, the Indian federation felt confident enough to promote the idea of introducing, for the first time, equestrian events in the Asian Games when they were held in India in 1982
Gen Malhotra was president of the EFI (and also of the Delhi Golf Club) when the news began circulating that India was to host the 1982 Asian Games. “I looked at the proposed programme for the Games and realised that there was no golf and no equestrianism included,” recounts the General. “So I attended a meeting about the Games with the sports minister and I asked him why we couldn’t have equestrianism and golf. He wanted to know if we would win any medals in these sports – that was the criteria, that we should win medals – and I confidently told him that we could! On that basis, he agreed to include both sports. Fortunately, my prediction that we could win medals held up: out of the 13 gold medals won by India in those Asian Games, three were won in Equestrianism and two in golf.”
Having persuaded the Indian sports officials to include equestrianism in the Asian Games, Gen Malhotra then had the difficult task of convincing the FEI that India’s National Federation was capable of organising an international Equestrian event of this scale. In its favour, the EFI could point to the fact that it had, since its inception in 1967, done everything required of it by the FEI, and done it well.
It had been diligent in its adherence to international rules and regulations, and had embraced with enthusiasm the help and initiatives proffered by the FEI. Fortunately the Secretary General of the FEI at that time, Fritz O. Widmer, took a keen interest in the development of the equestrian sports in India, and he visited the country to discuss the idea of including FEI sports in the Asian Games. After many meetings, India finally got the green light, but the FEI wanted the federation to run competitions in Show Jumping, Eventing and Dressage. India knew very little about the latter, apart from the fact that it had no chance of winning any medals, so instead requested to include Tent Pegging; something in which it had plenty of experience and expertise.
The FEI was dubious about the proposal, but after a visit by His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, the President of the FEI, to watch a tent pegging demonstration in the grounds of the President’s Bodyguard in Delhi, they got the go ahead for this as well.
“He was highly impressed,” recalls Gen Balasubramanian. “I wrote the Tent Pegging rules myself, and we got them approved. So we were allowed to have Tent Pegging as one of the three disciplines at the Asian Games, together with Show-Jumping and Eventing”.
The significance of those Asian Games as a turning point in the development of equestrian sport in India cannot be over-emphasised. The Games had become hugely important to India both as a measure of its standing on the world stage and as a focus for national fervour. So when Indian riders produced their country’s first gold medals of the Games and finally came away with an impressive horde of three golds, a silver and a bronze, they were seen as sporting heroes, and equestrianism was brought to the attention of millions.
India had already played a pioneering role in the establishment of the Asian Games in 1951, when the first Games were held in Delhi. Those first Asian Games were not just about sport; they marked India’s position as a newly independent country and its growing prominence in Asia. There was a desire for Nehru’s India to be noticed and respected as an emerging nation.
Again, sport was only a part of the story when the Games returned to India in 1982. Indira Gandhi’s government was in difficulty, and her personal standing in the eyes of the West had taken a battering during the 1975 – 1977 Emergency. This was her opportunity to restore her own global image and also to create a sense of national unity within India. The Games became her show, run entirely by her government, and no stone was left unturned to ensure their success. The huge investment in Delhi’s infrastructure changed the city’s skyline: there were new stadia, new roads, new intersections and flyovers, new hotels, some 12,000 new lines laid by the telecom department and more than 4 lakh trees planted. As “Asiad Fever” gripped the city in the run-up to the Games, Mrs Gandhi personally visited every stadium.
It was against this backdrop that India’s Equestrian riders sprung to prominence by winning the first gold medals of the Games. The euphoria surrounding their success was further enhanced by the arrival of Indira Gandhi to personally present the medals to the winning riders. The eyes of India and the rest of Asia were focussed on the success of the equestrian competitors, giving a fillip to the sport that could hardly have been dreamed of 15 years earlier.
Raghubir Singh, a member of 61st Cavalry, riding a horse called Shahzuda, was the winner of the individual gold medal in Eventing. Two other Indian riders, Gulam Mohammedkhan Khan (riding Goodwill) and Prahlad Singh (riding Ranjit) claimed individual silver and bronze medals, and the team of R. Singh, G Mohd. Khan, B. Singh and M. Singh also won the team gold medal. It was clean sweep of medals in the eventing competition in which there had been 23 riders from five nations taking part.
India’s third equestrian gold medal came in the Tent-Pegging, which was won by Col R Singh Brar, who subsequently received the Arjuna Award for his outstanding horsemanship. It was only in show jumping that the India riders came away empty handed; there was no team competition, and Kuwait scooped all the medals in the individual class.
India’s riders had catapulted equestrianism into the limelight; furthermore, the EFI had proved that it could successfully run an important international competition. Although FEI judges and officials had come from abroad to assist in the running of the equestrian events at the Games, the entire organisation had been carried out by the National Federation, and the FEI was very happy with the way things had been run.
In 15 years the EFI had progressed from a fledgling national body to an organisation capable of inaugurating, setting up and supervising a major international event incorporating three FEI disciplines. Added to this achievement was the kudos of winning three gold medals, a silver and a bronze for India. The EFI had come of age. The following years brought more success for Indian riders. In 1984 Maj G M Khan was selected to compete in the Los Angeles Olympics as an individual, but unfortunately was unable to participate. Undaunted, Maj Khan, who was equally at home in Eventing or Show Jumping, went on to compete in the 1985 Volvo World Cup Show Jumping competitions in Rotterdam, Holland, and in Antwerp, Belgium, and also won the Tarmac International Show Jumping competition held in Delhi.
At the 10th Asian Games, held in Seoul from September 24 to October 4, 1986, India was one of only four countries (Indonesia, Japan and Korea being the others) to send full teams of riders in all three disciplines - Show Jumping, Dressage and Eventing. Though, to be fair, some of the Indian squad took part in more than one discipline. There was no Tent-Pegging at these Games. Altogether, there were eight countries competing, and India came home with two team bronze medals, one from eventing and one from dressage. The show jumping team came sixth.
Raghubir Singh and G. Mohd Khan rode on both the eventing team and the dressage team, while J. S. Ahluwalia competed in the dressage and show jumping. All the Indian riders were competing on borrowed horses because of the transport and quarantine problems involved in taking their own horses to South Korea, and G. Khan, riding a horse called Aspen, narrowly missed winning an individual bronze medal when he finished in fourth place in the Eventing.
There were no equestrian events at the Beijing Asian Games in 1990 and no Eventing (by now India’s most successful equestrian sport) at the 1994 Asian Games in Hiroshima, but annual Asian championships had started taking place under the auspices of the Asian Equestrian Federation (AEF), and Indian riders were regularly winning medals at these international competitions. Some riders, such as Maj J S Ahluwalia, were competing further a field in Australia and Europe, gaining valuable overseas experience. In 1996 Indrajit Lamba took part in the Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA, riding Karishma in the Eventing, but he had a fall when jumping down from an imposing bank at the sixth fence on the cross course and was later eliminated.
By 1998 there were new faces on the Eventing team for the Asian Games in Bankok: Col. Rajesh Pattu from the 61st Cavalary (who was to be a regular team member over the next eight years), Amlokjit Singh, Palwiner Singh and Imtiaz Anees, the latter being the first civilian rider to represent India abroad. There were 21 riders from five nations in the Eventing competition, and India once again claimed the bronze team medal.
Two years later, Imtiaz Anees became India’s first rider to successfully complete an Olympic Eventing competition when he and his horse Spring Invader finished 23rd out of 31 competitors in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. This was a huge achievement for Indian equestrianism, as the degree of difficulty at Olympic level is much higher than at the Asian Games. Mr Anees was India’s only equestrian representative at these Games, and in spite of falling at the fourth fence on the cross country he managed to finish the course, and the following day he completed the show jumping with only two fences down.
Success continued for India at the next two Asian Games; in both Korea in 2002 and in Doha (Quatar) in 2006, Indian riders once again claimed team bronze medals in Eventing, and at each event the number of competitors and standard of competition was continuing to rise. In Korea, where the team comprised Indrajit Lamba, Hony Capt Bhagirath (Retd), Col Rajesh Pattu, SJRP, VSM and Col Deep Ahlawat, VSM, there were 22 riders from five nations. Four years later, in Doha, there were 32 riders from nine nations, and Bhagirath Singh came close to winning an individual medal when he finished fourth. Rajesh Pattu, who came sixth in the individual rankings, felt that he might have won an individual medal if he had not been the last go on the cross country, when the appalling weather was at its worst. “It was pouring with rain, and there were puddles everywhere”, he recalls. “My horse lost three shoes on the course, and because it was so slippery I had to be careful, so I collected about six time penalties, which caused me to miss an individual medal”.
Indian riders know that they can realistically aim for individual medals at this level, giving them greater confidence as they prepare for future Asian Games. This confidence has been created by increasing exposure at international level and also, over the last 10 years, by India’s inclusion in the FEI’s Development Programme, which was set up in the late 1990s. India’s initial involvement in this sports development project came about largely through the efforts and tenacity of Manoj Jalan, who joined the EFI in 1995 as a Regional member, and was elected Vice-President two years later. At his first FEI General Assembly meeting, in Doha, Quatar, in 1999, Mr Jalan was concerned that the FEI’s policy of increasing the number of National Federations (NFs) in its drive to create a wider base for the sport could be detrimental to existing NFs in developing equestrian nations. The policy was being pushed forward largely in response to pressure from the International Olympic Committee, who felt that the FEI should have more member countries.
Mr Jalan raised the issue at the Assembly: “I told them that, on the one hand, they were spending money bringing in new countries, but on the other, they had a large number of countries who were doing nothing in terms of participation in competitions. These countries would soon start dropping out of the FEI, so surely it would be better to put some money into establishing the developing nations to keep them in the sport.
“At the time the FEI had a very progressive Executive Board, lead by the President of the FEI, the Infanta Dona Pilar de Borbon (from Spain), with Dr Bo Helander as the Secretary General, and Michael Stone who was in charge of development. These people were serious about the growth of the sport world wide, and were very helpful. They took up my suggestion, and as a result India became the first recipient of the FEI Development Project.”
Under the programme, two high profile coaches came to India to help train riders. In December 1999, Col. Christian Carde, an ‘Ecuyer’ of the famous Cadre Noir de Saumur, in France, and an international FEI judge, came to India to coach its dressage riders. He returned three or four times after that, to give further help and advice. From Germany, the Olympic gold medallist Ralf Ehrenbrink also came to India on a number of occasions to help train the Eventing teams preparing for the Asian Games.
The EFI also started another major initiative around this time called “Coaching the Coaches”. The presence of top international trainers was an enormous benefit to the riders, but because these trainers had so many other commitments they could spend only a short time in India, so the idea of the EFI was to promote the training of India’s own coaches. Three programmes were carried out, one in Bangalore, one in Calcutta and one in Delhi, qualifying Indian trainers to Level 1.
Given the vast size of India, it has always been difficult for the EFI to be geographically fair in the location of its training and competition venues. Traditionally, most of the equestrian sports have been concentrated in North India, particularly as the hub of the army’s equitation activities are based with the Remount Veterinary Corp in Meerut. But other centres of equestrianism have been developing rapidly in recent years, and there is now, for example, a large equestrian following in Bangalore. In an effort to accommodate everyone, the EFI moves its National Championships to a different venue each year. Nonetheless, it is not unusual for horses and riders to be travelling for up to four days in order to compete at an important competition within India. To encourage and facilitate the growth of equestrianism in the regions, the EFI amended its Statutes in 2004 to make it mandatory for each of the State Associations to nominate a member to represent it on the EFI. In this way, the State Associations gained greater recognition within the EFI and became more involved in National issues.
Over the last 10 to 15 years the growth of civilian involvement in equestrian sport has grown enormously, largely as a result of increased equestrian activity in the different regions.
The State Federation of Assam was founded in the early 1990s (its first president being Mr B V P Rao) to promote equestrianism in North East India. A number of Endurance competitions and Tent-Pegging events, both National and International, had been held in the region, and alongside these events were big Show Jumping classes, Dressage competitions and junior competitions. There was a great local response to the events, which proved very popular with spectators as well as competitors.
These events had come to the attention of Gen Malhotra, President of the EFI at the time, who was keen to see a revival of Tent-Pegging in India. The whole Tent-Pegging movement had lapsed since its initial inclusion in the Asian Games of 1982, and it no longer featured as a discipline in the Games. Gen Malhotra encouraged the formation of the Federation of Assam, which then held its first International Tent-Pegging competition in 1995. The event was telecast live across the country on the one state-owned television channel (in those days there was not the selection of channels that there are now), so it had tremendous publicity.
The success of the Tent-Pegging event was followed by a National Endurance competition in the region in 2001, and two years later the Federation of Assam held India’s first International Endurance competition (on borrowed horses) under FEI rules. This was a landmark event, with over 50 horses and riders from nine countries taking part, and it started the revival of the sport in India on a bigger scale than had previously been seen. The International Endurance community took a great interest in the event, and in March 2009 the FEI gave its blessing to another International Championship in Assam, called the Eastern Himalayan Ride. Both the Tent-Pegging and the Endurance competitions have brought recognition to Assam, and the region has played a significant role in the revival and promotion of these sports in India.
The South Indian Equestrian Association was established in January 2001, with membership drawn mostly from a number of very successful riding clubs in the area. There is a now an emerging group of riders from this region gaining National and international recognition in Dressage, Show Jumping and Eventing. Two dressage riders from this area, Nadia Haridas and Jolly Ahluwalia, and one Event rider, Ajai Appachu, were selected to represent India at the 2010 Asian Games.
Unfortunately due to quarantine issue raised by the officials of organising committee of Beijing Asian Games at the last moment the athletes could not be sent to participate in 16th Asian Games.
In the intervening period to 17th Asian Games to be held at Incheon, South Korea in 2014 many civilian riders and horse lovers imported warmblood horses from various parts of Europe and started giving tough time to Army Rider who till now had upper hand in all type of equestrian activities. With the infusion of warmblood into the Indian Equestrian sphere the standard of equestrianism in the country started taking a big leap and after a gap of 08 years India could send separate teams in each discipline. Dressage team comprised of Mr Shruti Vora, Ms Vanita Malhotra, Ms Nadia Haridass & Ms Shubhsri Rajendra, Eventing team comprised of Mr MS Rathore, Mr Ajai Appachu, Lt Col Rajsangaram Singh & Mr Fouad Mirza and Show Jumping team comprised of Mr Sehaj Singh Virk, Mr Yashaan Khambatta & Mr Ashray Butta. It can be seen that out of 11 riders selected for 17th Asian Games only one rider belonged to Army thus proving a major shift in equestrianism in the country. However, the teams could not beg any medal either in individual events or in team events. It was a great disappointment to the expectations of officials of MYAS. On top of the above one Show Jumping horse was disqualified from participating due to lameness which the MYAS attributed to the ill management of the EFI and stopped sanctioning any foreign exposure to equestrian team of any discipline and was contemplating to derecognise the federation. In the succeeding year of Incheon Asian Games of 2014 under the presidentship of Lt Gen RV Kanitkar, AVSM, SM, VSM, Col RK Swain took over the reins of EFI as Secretary General.
The daunting task that was staring at his face was to convince and reassure the official of MYAS and SAI about the good intention of the federation in improving the medal prospect of equestrian sports at International level. There came an opportunity of World Cup of Tent Pegging which was to be held at Egypt wef 11 to 18 Apr 2016. To participate in World Cup, Indian Team was required to participate in a qualifier which was to be held at Abu Dhabhi. After lot of persuasion by the Secretary General, the official of SAI & MYAS finally agreed to support the federation in sending the team to Abu Dhabi to participate in the Qualifier. The team comprised of Nb Ris Ajay Sawant, HC Pradeep, HC Suresh Kumar, Rfn W Lammty & Insp Jaswinder Singh.
The team performed stupendously well and bagged five gold and two silver out of eight events and was on the top of the chart. The effort of the team was very well appreciated by Mr Sarbanand Sonowal, Minister of MYAS, thus helping in re-establishing the medal winning credential of the EFI. Hereafter there was no stopping, the team was sent to participate at World Cup at Egypt at Govt Cost and returned victorious with 03 Gold Medal. Nb Ris Ajay Sawant who was the winner of 05 Gold Medals and 02 Silver medals in the whole series up to world cup was unanimously recommended by the Executive Committee for the Arjuna Award for the year 2016. The foreign exposure to equestrian athlete which was unofficially stopped by MYAS/SAI resumed and the federation could send many athletes for foreign exposures thereafter.