The emotional disconnect: Equestrian show jumpers reveal lockdown impaired rider-horse camaraderie
For equestrian showjumper like Kaevaan, Zahan and their steeds, the lockdown has not only been a setback physically and mentally, it has affected something even more critical: man-horse camaraderie.
Stories of athletes’ physical and mental struggles during the coronavirus-induced lockdown are aplenty. The new normal since the coronavirus pandemic involves wearing face masks and maintaining physical distancing. In some cases, it even means athletes have to live in a bubble.
Amidst all of this, somehow, sportspersons have found a way to keep training. Swimmers have found backyard pools. Shooters have worked on their form by lifting their weapons and pointing them at walls. Pole vaulters even started an online contest in their backyard.
Ask any doubles specialist in tennis or badminton, and they will tell you how difficult the lockdown has been for them. After all, how do you train with your partner, when you can't be within six feet of each other?
But what do you do when your partner is not even human?
As Kaevaan Setalvad points out the horse’s role when it comes to performing at the tournaments is ‘50 per cent’.
For equestrian show jumpers like Kaevaan and their steeds, the lockdown has not only been a setback physically and mentally, it has affected something even more critical: man-horse camaraderie.
Kaevaan, 23, started training in late July once the stringent lockdown restrictions were relaxed.
“Lockdown did have an impact on us,” Kaevaan told Firstpost, “My back was paining significantly after I had my first ride in three months. It takes time to find the right rhythm. Even for the horses, it was different. The trust between the rider and the horse is affected. It takes a lot of time and practice to build that emotion and bond.
“The horse will be able to make a correct jump and not hurt itself in the process only if I am able to bring him/her to the correct spot from where he/she can take off which is the essence of show jumping and is very difficult to achieve. And since I am out of practice, it is a challenge for me too, to get it right, so our connection is impaired,” he explained.
Besides the emotional bond, there is a physical loss as well. Kaevaan’s younger brother, Zahan, who is a professional show jumper too, said, “Due to the lockdown, training for both myself and my horses has been affected gravely. A lot of their muscles which had been developed over many years have been wasted.”
“Resuming training has been a slow process because it takes time to rebuild the muscle that has been lost during the break. So we have to start off really slowly and try to control and not push them too much or work them too hard, since the muscle takes time to re-strengthen again.”
Both the Setalvad brothers have three horses that they regularly ride on.
Cherokee is Kaevaan's main horse, a 12-year-old Holsteiner. Kaevaan and Cherokee competed at the 2018 Asian Games finals in Jakarta. Kaevaan was the first Indian National Champion at height of 150 cms when he was 19 years old and has medalled at FEI World Championships.
Zahan's, 21, main horse is Quintus Z, a 14-year-old Zangersheide sport horse, who he rode at the Asian Games finals. He also holds the bragging rights over his elder sibling for beating him narrowly in the National Championship held last year.
The Setalvad brothers started riding when they were six years old. Kaevaan started competing in 2011 while Zahan started out two years later. Currently they ride at the Amateur Riders’ Club (ARC) facility in Mumbai and are pleased that the National championships have returned to the city. The proximity and the facilities on offer at the ARC have been appreciated by both riders and have helped them train adequately.
The brothers, who are pursuing law degrees, have their eyes set firmly on the 2022 Asian Games.
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