Maharashtra's first-ever Horse Endurance Championship was held in Lonavala on February 19, 2017. Organised by the Indigenous Horse Owners Association of Maharashtra, this endurance event attracted over 50 entries, with riders coming from as far away as Indore. A very scenic and interesting cross-country route was laid out by the organisers to which we had access because Khushru Patel, one of the organisers, is a dear friend. So I grabbed the opportunity and decided to drive the entire route in a Polaris RZR 800 ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle). This proved to be great fun, because under the RZR's bonnet reside 50 energetic horses and due to its low overall weight it has a very good power-to-weight ratio and packs quite a punch. It's also capable of going almost anywhere thanks to its rugged long-travel suspension and all-wheel drive with low ratio.
Maharashtra's first-ever 'Horse Endurance Championship' was flagged off on 19th February 2017 at Kurvande Village, near Lonavala
There were three categories in the Horse Endurance. A 20km one in which the participants go over the route once. A Junior category who also had to do the route once and a 40km category that did the circuit twice. The riders were timed at the start and finish and also at checkpoints on the route. The timing in an endurance event is important, but more vital is the condition of the horse at the finish. After riders cross the finishing line, they have 30 minutes to cool the horse down and bring its heartbeat to 64 per minute or lower. If it's over 64, the rider is eliminated from the competition. The horse is also made to trot, and if it's found to be limping or lame, again the rider is eliminated. This means that while the rider has to be fast, he also has to care his horse and not push it beyond its endurance limit.
And we were there to experience the 'Endurance Route' in a Polaris RZR 800
The aim of the Indigenous Horse Owners Association of Maharashtra is to preserve and promote local breeds like the Marwari, which are strong horses capable of covering long distances. Most riders were on Marwaris and the competition in this cross-country event was intense with the stage timings being very close. In the end, it was Krish Saigal who won the 40km Endurance category with a time of 2 hour 25 minutes. In second place was Bakhtiyar Irani, less than a minute behind! In fact, Bakhtiyar led almost all the way; it was only in the last couple of kilometres that Krish on Atlantic Star picked up his pace dramatically and literally pipped Bakhtiyar to the post.
There was tough competition and speedy action
In the 20km Endurance category, it was Satyajit Pawar riding Malhar who was triumphant. The Junior category was won by 15-year-old Anurag Gaikwad riding Honey. His mother Sangeeta is the caretaker of Khushru Patel's farm and all of them were overjoyed. The event was very well organised, and a great time was had by all. Including me, who used the 50PS Polaris RZR to 'Run with the 50 Participating Horses'.
With us having a ring-side view
The riders pushed hard
And we also were thrilled to drive over the cross-country route
Nadeem Lakdawala making Begum canter
Krish Saigal rode his horse Atlantic Star superbly and finished first in the 40Km Endurance category
While the riders were careful and avoided rocks and stones, we had no such fear and climbed any obstacle at will
Three women, including Ania Miriska, took part in the event
A rider calming down and encouraging his horse
Many overtaking manoeuvres took place right in front of us
We were also passed many times
65-year-old Ajay Shah was the oldest participant but amongst the most enthusiastic
It's all about horsepower
Tanmay Vandre, an 11-year old took part in the Junior category
Some kids had a tough time controlling their horses
Aspi Forbes manning checkpoint 11
Khushru Patel finished the 40km Endurance, but was eliminated as his horse Goldie had a heart beat rate of 68 per minute. The maximum permitted is 64 beats
Kailash Sheth of the Kobe Restaurant Chain rode Hazel
Bakhtiyar Irani of Parsi Dairy Farm with Becky. They finished second in the 40km Endurance
Riding coach Laxmi Singh took part in the 40km and here she is making her horse trot in front of the judge
Horses waiting to be examined by the veterinarian B Ramanathan and his team
Participants Sherbanoo and Laxmi. Girls just wanna have fun
On the recce day, Bob and his wife Madhu had time to check out a lake along the Endurance event route
Bob also found time to give the RZR a bath with a very useful Bosch home car washer
And a shampoo too
Krish Saigal paced his race well and went for it towards the end and was the big winner
Krish Saigal and Atlantic Star proved to be winning combination
Bob pushing the RZR
Laxmi urging Gatsby to drink at one of the watering points on the route
Participants had 30 minutes at the finish to cool down their horses. If the heart rate exceeded 64 beats a minute, the horse was eliminated by the vets
Despite all cooling-down attempts, Khushru's horse Goldie got eliminated due to her rate of 68 heartbeats per minute
Vet B Ramanathan checking the heartbeat rate of Goldie
We made it to the finish too. The organisers of the event say, 'To Finish is to Win'
15-year-old Anurag Gaikwad finished the 20km Endurance in 57 minutes and was winner in the Junior category
Krish Saigal receiving the winner of the 40km Endurance Prize from the international-level judge, Colonel Yadav of the Indian Army
Top Three of the 40Km Endurance - Krish Saigal (centre), Bakhtiyar Irani (right) and Amit Kapadia (left) with chief judge of the event Col. Yadav
Bob and participant Ania, all dressed up for the cowboy theme 'Endurance Championship Party'
It really was a fun event
Images by Bob Rupani & Ajay Raut