-Amitabh Kumar Das
Before I became an IPS officer, the only horse I was familiar with was the “knight”, the horse-shaped piece on the chessboard. But riding was an integral part of our police training in Hyderabad.
If you can control a horse, you can control a district, our riding Ustad solemnly told the would be SPs. So the future district police chiefs were left at the mercy of those muscular, shining, towering horses inside the riding ground. I developed cold feet inside my riding boots!
Recently, I read an interview with Salman Khan after the release of Tiger Zinda Hai. Salman admitted that of all the action scenes done by him, riding was the toughest part. So even a tiger holds a horse in awe! Salman told the surprised interviewer that a horse could take its rider anywhere the horse pleased. How true Sallu Mian is!
On numerous occasions at the National Police Academy, my horse went out of my control and left the riding ground far behind. If I managed to see several historical places in Hyderabad, the credit goes to these hot-headed horses! I saw the Char Minar, the Golconda Fort and many magnificent palaces while hanging upside down from my horse s back. And when you are hanging upside down, even ordinary places look magnificent.
A horse moves in four different ways. WALK, TROT, CANTER and GALLOP. As long as your horse walks gently, the ride is enjoyable. In many Hindi movies, the heroine sits astride a white horse and the hero holds reins. They walk down a slope laughing and singing merrily. But riding a galloping horse is a bone-shaking experience. In the final riding test at the National Police Academy, a trainee cop is required to clear half a dozen obstacles sitting on a galloping horse. It is the time when many IPS trainees wish that they should have opted for bank jobs! And those saddle cuts! Since riding bare back on a horse is next to impossible, a saddle made from hard leather is fixed on the horse back. But these saddles are so hard that they make deep cuts into the riders’ thighs. As I rode, rode and rode one fine morning I found left thigh bleeding. I started to limp. I rushed to the Police Academy hospital where Dr Lakshmi was the presiding deity. The horrified doctor bandaged my saddle cut. But such was the iron discipline at the Police Academy that even the kind lady couldn’t recommend bed-rest for the poor soul.
On the prescription, she wrote NAP in her bad handwriting. (No self respecting doctor writes clearly!). In the Academy jargon, NAP meant Not Attending Parade. So the next morning, yours truly limped to parade ground. Though I didn’t join the gruelling parade, I was made to watch my batchmates perform the drill. They smiled at me. I couldn’t smile back. I missed my bedroom sorely.
As the training progressed, the riding classes became my bugbear. The fear of failure in the final test loomed large. I borrowed some books on the riding from our library and started devouring them even in computer classes. Mr J. R. Shaligram (IPS 75 batch) was the Deputy Director at the Academy. A large cop with a handlebar moustache and a heart of gold. One day, he caught me red-handed reading books on horses in the computer class. I feared the worst but he only smiled.
Interestingly, I was elected the Secretary of the Riding Club unanimously by my dear batchmates. I still don’t know if they did so a prank or they truly believed in my “hidden” riding abilities. But the Secretaryship gave me opportunities to interact with Dr Reddy, a great horse man. He was very fond of me. He told me that one should always pat a horse and say Shaabaash Ghoda after a smooth ride. Even animals need appreciation!
Finally, the D-day arrived. The best rider at the National Police Academy is awarded the prestigious Tonk Cup, sponsored by the erstwhile Nawab of Tonk, a princely state in Rajasthan. I was nowhere in the race. I only wanted to leave the riding ground with my bones intact!
I took my horse to riding enclosure. There I was supposed to make an ATTHA on the ground. Making 8 (Eight in Hindi) proves that the rider can move his horse in all directions at his will. To my own surprise, I did it easily. Then came the galloping part. The moment my horse saw obstacles, he started to gallop without waiting for my command! In a jiffy, my horse went past all hurdles and I cleared the riding test honourably.
Dr Reddy, my friend, philosopher and guide was all smiles. If I remember correctly, even some horses had smiles on their faces!
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