Kids Corner

Sports

The Knight Riders

by KHUSHWANT SINGH

They come galloping on horse-back with lances in their hands, pick up a wooden peg and pass off in a whiff, leaving you marvelling at the sort of stuff these young guns are made of.

The scene is no take from a cavalry strike  -  they are the riders, regal and fearless, of sadda Punjab, where equestrian sport has just arrived in a big way, moving away from the confines of police and military equestrian academies. Be it the swanky Chandigarh Horse Riding Society next to the picturesque Sukhna Lake or the Punjab Public School Riding Academy in the princely town of Nabha, young boys and girls are taking to this royal sport passionately, like never before.

Not to be left behind are equestrian institutions such as the Kirpal Sagar Academy in Punjab's hinterland (Nawanshahr) and the Shivalik Riding and Pony Club at Chandimandir, headquarters of the western command.

Each of the academies are providing riding opportunities to explore the centuries-old bond between man and horse which kept improving considerably as the role of the horse kept changing. From chariot pullers to horse cavalries to equestrian sports, the horse scene in Punjab also has undergone a change whereby horses are no longer confined to just being ridden by traditional Sikh warriors, the Nihangs, or with the mounted police to diffuse mobs, but can be seen performing show-jumping, tent-pegging and dressage activities.

"Somebody told me, riding is the best way to instill confidence in your child, so I take him riding everyday", says Harmala, mother of eight year old Adiraj who rides at the Chandigarh Horse Riding Society. "My aim is to provide quality riding to Chandigarh citizens and we have been working hard towards it," says J.S. Tur, the force behind setting up the Chandigarh Horse Riding Society.

Promoted by the Punjab Armed police during the late eighties and early nineties, Punjab's equestrian story started when a group of four youngsters riding on the police horses at the Punjab Secretariat grounds in Chandigarh decided to take horses to Rai Barelli (U.P.) for the National Equestrian Competition. The only sport they understood was tent-pegging. Nothing else.

However, to everybody's surprise, each one of them won a title. "It was a dream run", says Ashwinder Singh, who went on to win the National Tent-Pegging Championship (Individual) in 1991.  The then Inspector-General (Punjab Armed Police -  "PAP") M.S. Bhullar, a sports freak himself, immediately promoted his riders and ordered the purchase of new horses of a better breed, such as thoroughbreds.

Enter Punjab into the world of show-jumping.

But riding still remained confined to the PAP campus at Jalandhar and the Police Training Academy in Phillaur or whoever could manage a horse from the police or the army: the transportation of individual horses from one location to another was always going to be expensive and tricky.

In 1995, tragedy struck and Punjab's sitting Chief Minister Beant Singh was killed in a bomb-blast. In the security measures that followed, riding facilities in Chandigarh were withdrawn with immediate effect, virtually signalling the death of the riding scene in the city.

The decade from 1990-2000  was the era of the Punjab police in equestrian activities and police personnel gave the army a run for their money. However the police could not sustain the tempo and lost the battle to come at par with the highly skilled army in show-jumping and dressage that required intense training and highly qualified trainers.

Tent-pegging remained Punjab's forte and Deputy Superintendent of Police (PAP)  Satpal Singh went on to become an international figure in this event, winning the National Championship thrice and representing India in South Africa for a newer version of the sport, now renamed Gymkhana.

The riding scene within the police is presently in a dismal condition with the Punjab Police hardly participating in competitions. It has also failed to add young horses to its stables.

But every cloud, as they say, has a silver lining. Enter the era of private clubs and riding now has a new lease on life. Children of civilians started getting opportunities to ride in private riding academies and in schools that adopted riding as a sport.

The Punjab Public School in Nabha is a perfect example. With a feather-tuft aigrette adorning their brown turbans, its horsemen are widely known as the kalgi wale riders.

"It's a great feeling to see children participate in huge numbers at local horse shows," says Col. Sarpartap Singh, Secretary General of the Equestrian Federation of India. "Being from Chandigarh and Punjab, I have been consistently urging horse-lovers to initiate riding activity in the city", he says.

"Even though Punjab hasn't produced many home-grown riders, Punjabis have excelled in equestrian sports, including Polo, outside the state, especially in the Army," he adds.

To name a few stars  -  Col. A.J. Singh of the RVC, Major Navjit Sandhu of the 61st Cavalry, Subedar-Major Palvinder Singh and Subedar JP Masih, both of the RVC, have done Punjab proud by reaping a rich harvest of medals in equestrian competitions. Col Pinka Virk, Col R.S. Brar (Ret'd), Lt. Col Ajay Ahlawat (Ret'd), all of the 61st Cavalry, are also some of the names to reckon with in Polo.

And, of course, the name of the late Capt. M.S. Bhinder of the 61st Cavalry will always be remembered fondly in equestrian circles.

In Punjab, it's a case of  -  Have Horse, Will Ride!

[Photos - Courtesy: India Today]

Conversation about this article

1: Ari Singh Birdi (Reykjavik, Iceland), April 03, 2007, 5:32 AM.

Great article! Horse riding is in every Sikh's blood. Therefore, we should encourage our young in this sport. My daughter, Anita Singh Aradottir,is a horse tamer and has won many medals. She is presently been trained by the legendary Monty Roberts, the "horse whisperer". It has kept her focused and away from the many negative lures and distractions that plague our society today. At the same time, it has instilled a sense of confidence and courage.

2: Col. Sarpartap Singh (New Delhi, India), July 21, 2007, 9:23 PM.

A great article. I'm sure it'll inspire more children to take horse-riding and motivate parents to encourage their children to do so.

3: Prabhjinder Singh Hayer (Toronto, Canada), January 24, 2008, 8:57 PM.

That's true horse-riding. The children at P.P.S., Nabha. Punjab, get world class education and an all-around development. It is one of the country's most prestigious schools; it has produced world class horse-riders.

4: Puneet S. Waraich (Houston, Texas, U.S.A.), January 09, 2009, 3:37 PM.

Reading this article is like going back to school. I studied at P.P.S. NABHA and so did my father and my uncle. P.P.S. is a very good educational and developmental experience, not only for its horse-riding, but because any sport which you can think of is offered, and much more ...

5: Col. Ajay Ahlawat (Delhi, India), February 01, 2009, 1:20 AM.

I salute the writer for such a detailed and positive article. Schools like Punjab Public School, Sports School, Rai and Mayo Collegee deserve a special mention - they do yeoman service to this sport and the youth of this country. This sport can change the character of the nation for the better. We need more schools to make this sport accessible to our children.

6: Rupinder Singh Thakur (Chandigarh, Punjab), November 01, 2009, 1:50 AM.

Reading this article, I have decided to put Rithwik Singh Thakur, my 9-year-old son, into horse riding, but also feel proud for the decision to send my son to P.P.S. Nabha for his schooling in Class 4.

7: Jagdeep Singh (California, U.S.A.), March 19, 2011, 2:27 AM.

My father - the late S. Jagdish Singh Pannu - was a top-notch rider. He was the only rider to win a Gold and two Bronzes in South Africa, and one Gold and a Silver in Oman. He was thrice the best rider in India. He was unbeaten, having won more than 170 medals in his riding career.

8: Manmeet Singh (Dehradun, India), October 07, 2011, 11:40 AM.

Wonderful. Waheguru ...

9: S. Singla (Mohali, Punjab), November 07, 2011, 12:46 AM.

Great information provided. I appreciate your work.

10: Nick Singh Kandola  (Bucks, United Kingdom), March 07, 2014, 2:26 AM.

Great article. We run a school in the UK where kids learn horse-riding but I am looking for someone to lead them into national competitions. Are there any leading Sikh horse-riding champions in the UK? If so, please get in touch with contact nickkandola@yahoo.co.uk

11: Sandy Singh (Mohali, Punjab), October 19, 2014, 2:47 AM.

Good information provided for polo and riding lovers. Thanks.

Comment on "The Knight Riders"









To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.