The new year brought great news for Fouaad Mirza. The Bengaluru boy was assured of his place in the Olympics in November but it got the official stamp when the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (EFI) released their rankings after the 2019 season.
The confirmation was the icing on the cake for the fast-rising star, who just two years ago had broken India’s 36-year equestrian medal drought at the Asian Games, bagging silver in both the individual and team events.
The Indian government even conferred him with the Arjuna Award in 2019 for that achievement but as it turns out, not everything was smooth sailing through the year.
“The horse with whom I won the silvers, Seigneur Medicott was injured early on in 2019, which was a big blow to me. I was counting on him to help me through the qualifications but unfortunately, he could not participate,” Fouaad Mirza revealed in an exclusive chat with the Olympic Channel.
However, his determination did not waver. Riding the newly-acquired Dajara 4, Fouaad Mirza rode to victory at CCI3*S, an Olympic qualifying tournament at Strzegom, Poland in October, which he lists as one of the highlights of his season.
Horses have always been a part of Fouaad Mirza’s life, considering his father, Dr Hasneyn Mirza is an equestrian veterinarian. He belongs to a family whose ancestors include a royal from the state of Mysore.
“I started riding at the age of five, and it was always something I would do after school and naturally, the passion to be around horses gradually started taking shape,” said Fouaad Mirza
“A retired army officer, Colonel Rajesh Pattu, who is also somebody I look up to, gave me a few old cassettes of Sir Mark Todd’s international career and those got me hooked. I have watched them so many times that I can tell you exactly minute-to-minute what happened,” Fouaad Mirza revealed with a tinge of that childish joy in his voice.
While he was in school, he realized he had a competitive streak and as he grew older he harnessed it into a sport which was ideal for him.
“It was wonderful to combine my competitiveness with an animal I loved to be around and so I started riding at the national level and it was there that my journey actually began,” he said.
However, life came at a crossroads a few years down the line when the lad had to decide if he wanted to study or continue to pursue equestrian professionally. And the answer was not what one would expect.
“I opted to study and went to England to get a degree in psychology and business and only rode when I came back home during the holidays and realized that I thoroughly missed it,” he divulged.
Fouaad Mirza’s prayers were answered when he got the backing of a private firm to sponsor him, which eventually enabled him to represent India at the 2014 Asian Games.
His passion ran so strong that he would take part in the nationals without any training whenever he was in the country and would do so with horses he had trained with previously, which meant that he formed a great partnership with them.
“I haven’t looked back since,” he said.
The equestrian is currently training in Germany and is looking to get his into his groove before his big dream rolls around in about six months.
“Look, there is always the risk of injury in any sport, and I cannot hold myself back because of that fear. I will keep training hard and take part in more events to be in the best possible shape before Tokyo,” he stated.
“But I have never been one to bow down under the pressure of a big challenge, my competitive nature does not allow that. Others may think I have no chance but I always think I do - if you don’t do that for yourself, nobody else can.
And how does he rate his chances at the Olympics? “It is going to be tough when you are competing against the best athletes from around the world. It will be my first Olympics and while the Asian Games was big, this is even bigger.
“All I can say is if it’s my day, I will come out on top and I will try my best to make that possible,” he signed off.