Name - Jyothika Hassanwalia
Position - Equestrian
DOB - 7th October
Location - Uttarakhand
I was born on the 7th of October at the army base hospital Delhi Cantt. My father was in the army which meant we moved every 3 years because of this we got to live in different parts of the country, experience different cultures. We got the opportunity to do an array of different activities from snow skiing to parasailing, trekking, camping and of course learning how to fly fish and catch the occasional trout. Another thing I got to experience as an army child was the access to play different sports. It is where at the age of 4yrs I sat on my first horse called 'Kaali Ghata' at the National Defence Academy, from that moment on I was hooked. It was ironic when years later I won my first Junior National Championship for Showjumping at NDA. Growing up as an army child was the most beautiful part of my childhood.
I finished my schooling from Convent of Jesus and Mary Dehradun, where I was the Head Girl of my school. I did English Honours from Jesus And Mary, Delhi. In my third year of college I won the International RaceHorse Transport Asian Equine Scholarship to study Horse Business Management from Marcus Oldham College in Australia where I completed my education.
After coming back from Australia I worked as an Equine Product Specialist for Dabur Ayurvet but it gave me very little time to train and compete, so after 2 yrs I gave up my corporate life and became a full time equestrian.
In college (JMC) I played a lot of sports, I played basketball, cricket and soccer at University level and went on to play soccer nationals for Delhi, it is in college I learnt teamwork, it is also where I realised I could be good at a lot of sports or be great in one, so I decided to be an equestrian. Marcus Oldham College taught me almost everything I know today about horses, from horse management, vet care, horse anatomy and physiology, breeding, genetics to training and competing at an international level. Studying at Marcus made me better prepared to choose a life of horse sport.
In life my parents and my brother have always been an inspiration for me. In showjumping it's Anne Kursinski, Michel Robert and Luciana Diniz.
Showjumping, I ride in a CWD2Gs Mademoiselle Saddle and a CWD Flat Seat Close Contact Saddle.
Because of the pandemic horse shows are postponed or cancelled in North India due to this the intensity of training that is normally required before a show is not there. Having said that, training for a horse and rider never stops, every time you sit on a horse you are either revising, repeating or relearning. These days it's a lot of pole work, grids and gymnastic exercises, we jump a course every 10-15 days and all the horses get one day off in a week.
I do a few routines I learnt in Europe on my horses but my favourite has to be the different variations of the butterfly exercises by Luciana Diniz.
My favourite equestrian event is the World Championship. At the World Championship, the best of the best compete, it doesn't get better than that in terms of quality and talent of both horse and rider.
Every horse I have owned and competed with I have trained from the first pole on the ground up, my top horses Desire B and Caterma came as unbroken young fillies from the Netherlands. I broke them in and trained them to the standard they are at today. What I have learnt is no two horses are alike. Temperament wise stallions are different from mares, who are different from geldings. My horses are a total contrast to each other, one is a very fiery hot horse who forgives you for some mistakes, the other requires a bit of encouragement and will not allow even a small mistake. So my riding style in competitions is completely different for both, though the training, the basics and the jump work at home is the same. The only constant in training is patience as training requires a lot of repetition.
I do lots without stirrups riding, off the horse I do core strengthening exercises and I play squash for fitness.
When you train your own horse as opposed to an already trained horse, more often than not you have better coordination with your horse, you understand every twitch and what it means. You know your horse's strengths and weaknesses, you know when and how much you can push them. For me personally I use this to my advantage in a jump off, I know how fast to go on my horse, what angles I can take to certain jumps and how acute a turn I can make to a jump.
The most important tip for a new horse and rider combination would be for the rider to understand the horse, how it reacts to your commands in a walk, trot, canter and gallop. The rider has to learn the temperament and ever idiosyncrasies of the horse in order to ride it better. Balance, control and metronome are the keys. While jumping don't go too big too fast, remember if you learn and teach the horse the correct take off spot on a 1:10m fence chances are you will get it right on a 1:40m as well. For me the most important thing in jumping is knowing your horse's stride. There are no shortcuts in training. Lastly, never get angry at your horse, when your horse makes a mistake it is most likely that the rider has not communicated clearly enough what he/she is asking of the horse.
We must understand why run outs or refusals happen. Is it disobedience, lack of confidence or physical pain. For wilful disobedience while training the horse might require one (only one) whack of the whip on its flank and a lot of grid work to teach it discipline. If your horse has lost its confidence due to a bad experience where you have asked too much of the horse or where he has got hurt you must give it a break, make a change of work routine, when he starts work again let him enjoy and get his confidence back over easier grids and jumps. If the run out is totally uncharacteristic of your horse, check whether the horse is in pain, his legs, back and teeth. For a run out during a show, come back again to the fence with a good long approach, have your legs on, a little stronger, come to the centre of the jump with positive forward impulsion.
In a competition during the jump off, short of two jumps to the Finish I felt my horse Baba Jo, limp a stride then two, I immediately knew he had pulled something, so I raised my hand and retired. Afterwards I had a few people come to me and tell me I should have carried on. There were only two jumps left and I could have won. I didn't carry on because it could have been two jumps too many for my horse, for me the well-being of my horse comes before any medal. It turned out to be a minor sprain that got ok in two days. We may not have won that day but Baba and I went on to win many more rounds in the years to come.
I have great memories from the FEI WJC 2017 held at Delhi. Both my horses Desire and Caterma were jumping higher than their grades against the best horses in North India, the competition was tough. Both my girls jumped flawlessly Desire came 2nd in the Cat B which the FEI changed to the 1st Position, the horse that came first a 2* a horse from Germany was disqualified upon review by the FEI. Caterma came 3rd in the Cat C. Though I have to say the best round I have ever jumped with Desire was in the FEI World Jumping Challenge 2018 in the Cat A 1:30m, the final day evening round was the biggest and most challenging course of all six rounds. Desire and I were up against some heavy hitters, an Asian Games horse, rider and all the other horses in Cat A were horses that had come jumping 1:40m and higher from abroad. Most riders had their German and Belgian coaches there on ground coaching them telling them how to ride the course. I was the only lady rider all by myself with my Desire, I whispered to her 'Come on girl you've got this. We were the only ones to have a clear round that evening. That moment it hit me what a long way we have come together from the first pole on the ground to jumping against international super expensive, absolute quality horses and holding our own.
My ultimate aim is to compete for India at the World Championship in Showjumping. And my plan for the future is to do everything I can to get there.
I am really proud of my Father
My advice to girls and women wanting to get in equestrian sports is 'Just Do It'. It is not an easy sport to get into, it requires a lot of commitment, hard work, money and sometimes broken bones but it is worth every bit. Be prepared to always have to prove yourself as a woman especially in India, once you get to Europe or the US to train and compete it does not matter if you are a man or a woman all that matters is how good you are. In Bangalore the Embassy Riding School is doing a great job, they have some very talented women and girl riders coming up in the sport.
What changes in your off-horse training requirements have you observed over that time? I read, I watch, I learn, I ask. I read about the latest training methods, equipment, techniques, feed, supplements. I watch training and competition videos of top riders. I learn by adopting some new techniques into my training.
I ask my friends who are competing at much higher heights In Europe what I need to do to improve my horses and myself. I send them videos of me training and competing and they send me back points on what I can improve on and what I have got right. I also keep up to date with nutrition and fitness for myself.
My advice would be to Ride as many different types of horses as you can. Ride difficult horses, they will make you a better rider. These days I see many parents wanting only warm blood horses to lease for their children, when you are learning to ride, a horse is a horse. A thoroughbred horse off the track or a polo pony will teach you as much as any horse.Once your basics are solid and you want to take up any discipline of Equestrian sport to a more professional level, then yes you will need a more specialised breed of horse to suit the purpose. Also do not buy a horse without knowing everything there is to know about feed, management, shoeing, vet care. It teaches you to communicate with an animal without using any words and in the end you have a language that you both understand and a bond that is indescribable.
Success requires a lot of sacrifice, hard work and dedication. Most of my friends are going for holidays, while I am saving all my money so that I can go train and compete in Europe, so I can learn more. Even if you are born into a super rich family and can buy the best horses in the world, remember you still have to be able to ride them. Don't skip even on step in training and learning, because more often than not when you are jumping in the big classes and have to make a split second decision, it will be what you learnt along the way that will come in handy.You have to be ok with losing, there are chances of losing in this sport more than you will win but when you do win, nothing beats that feeling. Train in Europe even for a short while, if you can, they are years ahead of us and what you can learn about horses, riding and competition you cannot in India at least for now. Get yourself a sponsor, I am doing it on my own and believe me it is not easy. A good sponsor will help you get to your aim much quicker. Look at Fuad Mirza, the Asian Games Silver Medallist for Eventing, he is super talented and has a fantastic sponsor. It is because of the backing of his sponsor and his hard work he has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
For me the idea of success is being a good daughter, or when I do anything truthfully, If I can give back whatever little I can, if I can be a better person than what I was yesterday, I'd consider myself successful.
The factors for my success are My SAI Baba, my parents and my brother, it's because of their sacrifice and everything they have done for me, I can live my dream. My horses who have been my greatest teachers and lastly myself, I have never given up, strife has only made me stronger and more resolute.
I would say. Don't follow in my footsteps, make your own path. We all have a little bit of greatness in us, find yours and make it shine.