A look inside the royal sport of Polo
Whenever we talk about horse-riding, we straight away evoke all the chivalrous knights in their shining armour, graciously riding steeds with great finesse. In this interview Adhiraj Singh, Owner and CEO of Equisport shares his passion for horses, and his desire to see the game grow from strength to strength in India.
Adhiraj Singh, CEO, Equisport
India has an old history of equestrian tradition. Would you like to shed some light on this?
The old adage that 'history is borne on a horse's back' holds true for India as well. Being one of the richest and most advanced countries in ancient times, India was one of the first to tame the horse for use as transport, an instrument of war and finally as a medium for sport. Various forms of the equestrian sport such as horse racing, polo and showing developed here.
Take us to the origins and history of this royal sport, Polo?
The original version of polo is said to have been formed during Akbar's reign wherein a version of the game was played by the nobles in his court. The game was used as a fun replacement to cavalry battle manoeuvres amongst them to sharpen their horsemanship skills as well as to display their courage on horseback. This carried on amongst the Maharajas of the various states of India until the British Cavalry Officers stationed in India decided to formalise the pattern of play and introduced rules into the game giving it its modern version that is one played all over the world.
You were conferred with the coveted "Arjuna Award" in 1991 - the highest award for sporting excellence in the country. How did you get inclined towards polo?
I belong to a family with a strong military tradition. My grandfather Brig. Ajit Singh Sodhi was a horseman and he instilled this passion in his two sons Billy and Pickles Sodhi who went on to become outstanding horsemen themselves and the best polo players in the land. They were my heroes as I grew up and inspired me to take up this calling.
What has been your most memorable moment on the field?
It was the time I won my second Indian Open Championship title in Delhi at the Jaipur Polo Ground.
Tell us about Equisport.
I was in the Indian Army for twelve years and left to start a new phase in my life. Equestrian sport and Polo was something that I knew well and the fact that Polo in India was a sport that had never been marketed properly led me to set up Equisport to do just that. It was also the only way that I could have stayed in touch with and played the sport that was an integral part of me. It gave me the opportunity of getting the best of both worlds and making my passion my business as well.
Shed some light on PoloLife Concierge Program.
It's the concept of a virtual Riding & Polo Club which brings in the existing facilities/clubs in the country onto a shared platform. With horses and equestrian sport being perceived to be so inaccessible in the country, the idea is to get the general public to become aware of these facilities and to ensure an easy access for anyone and everyone who would be inclined to attempt or take up horse riding as a hobby or sport. It's a medium to popularise the sport and to bring more traffic to the riding and polo facilities as well, therefore, making it a win-win on all counts.
What sort of fitness regime a polo player needs to follow?
It's a tough regimen that includes aerobic conditioning, yoga as well as strength training. On top of that, it requires many hours on horseback every day. It's hard and needs much dedication and focus but the hours in the saddle are glorious.
How difficult or easy is it for civilians to pursue the sport?
By saying civilians you imply that those in the forces have easier access which is not entirely correct. Today, there are far more civilians playing the sport than those from the forces. To pursue a sport like requires a certain mindset as well as an affinity for the amazing animal, the horse. Given that it begins with a question of being determined to learn to ride. Having said that, it's a fact that access to horses is not that simple or easy, at least in India. But where there's a will there's always a way. The facilities are out there but, yet an enigma to many. People are hesitant to approach them. That's where PoloLife Concierge intends to play a big part in making horses and the sport far more accessible to all.
What has been your greatest triumph to date?
My greatest triumph has been to be able to live a life I love, making my passion my business.
What dreams do you still want to achieve? What are the things you still want to improve?
I have many dreams and I'm lucky to even be living in one of them! But, seriously I would love to make equestrian sport and polo far more mainstream and inspire people to invest in its infrastructure and growth. Already in the equestrian sphere, that includes Show Jumping and Dressage there are many individuals and clubs that are lighting the way for the others. I would especially like to mention Jitu Virwani of the Embassy Group (real estates) and his Embassy Riding School in Bangalore that are promoting and producing Champion horsemen for India. We need more like that.
What advice do you have for budding polo players?
Firstly, be very sure in your mind where and what level you would like to reach in the sport. It's a difficult sport to master and because of the element of horsemanship, it is very important that the care and trust of the animal is paramount in your mind. Without that the player is unlikely to succeed. Access the best possible coach and the best horses for the sport, dedicate yourself to mastering the skill of horsemanship and finally, be courageous because this is not for the faint-hearted.