In the saddle: Risaldar Major Hariram on his life as an equestrian sportsman

From building Bangalore Turf Club’s reputation as a centre for equestrian sports to training children, Risaldar Major Hariram has many a colourful feather in his cap, discovers Sanskrity Sinha.

Decked in high riding boots, a helmet and a T-shirt boasting ‘BARI’ (Bangalore Amateur Riding Institute), Risaldar Major Hariram comes across as a tough sportsman. But when this animated silver begins to speak, he reveals a jolly side. “I thought I would live to be 200 but life is uncertain,” laughs the 78 year-old former Army man, who wishes he could never stop riding.

Hariram is a riding instructor at Bangalore Turf Club and he keeps his evergreen spirit alive by surrounding himself with the children he teaches and, of course, horses. On their way to the stables, a bunch of kids greets Chacha and he merrily waves back.

“I have loved these animals ever since I can remember and I cannot start my day without a ride,” says Hariram, whose affair with horses began at the age of 10. “Before Independence, every farmer family who grew chickpeas and owned more than 2-3 acre of land in Rohtak also owned horses. My grandfather was an excellent rider and I used to saddle the horses for a ride in the fields at 5 am. I didn’t know this childhood playfulness would be my destiny and, one day, a source of living.”

That story began to unfold when Hariram joined the Cavalry of the Indian Army in 1951. “We studied Urdu in school but, after Independence, Hindi became compulsory. I literally wanted to escape studying Hindi as I had never studied the subject before. So I enrolled with the Cavalry, where I taught horse riding as an Army instructor for 12 years,” says the mercurial silver with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

His career move opened another chapter in his life, for the enthusiastic rider discovered the highly competitive world of equestrian sports. Soon, Hariram was participating in show jumping competitions, and went on to create records. Among these is a national record he set on the Army's Raising Day in Meerut. “On 8 December 1970, I jumped 7 ft and 2.5 inches, a record that still stands!” A few months later, Hariram set an international record when he jumped 6 ft, 7 inches at the Delhi Horse Show at the Red Fort. “One of the judges, who had also judged my national record, sarcastically told me this jump was not as high as my national record. I told him he could record it as 4 ft if he wished. I had still set a record!”

Before these stunning performances, Hariram had already won 65 gold medals at several shows, some of them team events. “Winning at polo in Pakistan gave me a major boost. I became more hard-working as I used to practice for seven to eight hours a day on eight to nine horses.” Hariram is also the only rider to have won gold at show-jumping contests for four consecutive years, from 1959 to 1962.

Risaldar Major Hariram retired from the Army in 1980 but his love for horses lingered. He was acquainted with the then Maharaja of Patiala, Maharaja Captain Amlendra, who was also a minister in the government. Considering Hariram’s reputation with horses, he was invited by the Maharaja to run his stud farm. “For eight years, I supervised every activity on the farm, from deciding on a horse to be bred to taking care of pregnant horses,” says our expert horseman while savouring the memory. 

A cheerful senior with a magnetic charm, Hariram’s career took another turn in 1989, when he landed his present job at Bangalore Turf Club. It was a journey that was full of twists and included recommendations from two royal families and a senior Army man who had participated in competitions along with Hariram! “The Bangalore race course was then known only for racing and betting and the state equestrian federation wanted to introduce equestrian sports to the city. So they needed a riding instructor,” explains our senior. “The club had no infrastructure for riding then and I was asked to train 32 children to prepare them for a show in 21 days.” Not only did Hariram accomplish this feat, he also put on a flawless show-jumping performance along with the kids!

Hariram lives on the premises of the turf club and has been a riding instructor there for 24 years. But not a day goes by when he doesn’t think of his favourite animals who helped him hold his head high. “Leading Boy, an Indian breed, was one of my favourite horses. I left him in Meerut when I moved to Bangalore but I visited him once every year. He died serving the Army in Gaya. My other favourite is Pratap, also an Indian breed. I won three competitions with him. He too died in Gaya,” recalls Hariram with a faraway look.

He adds with obvious fondness, “Chatak and Patak, both Australian breeds, were also magnificent animals, and I met them when I was posted in Kashmir. They were very mischievous and it took me around three years to master and befriend them. My consecutive win for four years was made possible by Patak.”

Hariram’s most precious memory, though, is of his father, whose words he will never forget. “When my father left to take part in the Second World War, he left saying my love for horses should not make me ship school. But I dropped out of school in Std VI. He practically stopped talking to me after that. Almost 30 years later, when I set the international record, my father had just one thing to say: ‘Today, you have finished your studies’.”

The feature was published online on in 2012


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