Monday, March 4, 2024

Making it big in the fast, furious & passionate sport

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India, taunted as the birthplace of ‘modern’ polo, has a huge legacy, horse culture, and a hunger for the adrenaline-gushing sport. This week for our weekly edition of Hyderabond, Hyderabad’s very own horseman, Allan Shaun Michael, discusses the Polo sport culture in Hyderabad, his association with the city, and more.

Tejal Sinha

Hyderabad, the city of pearls, is one of the cities known for its sports culture. The city has been home to several now-international sportspersons. Here you have players from several subfields of sports; cricket, football, tennis, kabaddi, basketball, and now even handball with Telugu Talons. Open the list, and you have all of this mentioned, but nowhere is there a mention of the game of Polo!

Polo is basically a ball game played on horseback, which is world’s one of the oldest sports. Not that Polo was never played here or in the nation, but seemingly the glitz and glamour of other sports in the country almost make Polo a lesser-popular sport in India.

But here we have Allan Shaun Michael, owner of Michael’s Horse Riding Academy since 2000, who has not only been making it big in sports but is also raising awareness about Polo. An alumna of The Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet, and Bhavans (schooling and college), Allan was born and brought up with horses from the tender age of 2. Do you also wonder why he got into the sport of Polo and not any other sport? Well, he begins, “During my school days, I was mostly into swimming and basketball, playing for inter/intra school championships. However, due to some circumstances, I could not move ahead in the games. It was then that my father Austin Paul Michael asked me, ‘Why don’t you get into an individual sport?’ That was when I thought of giving it a shot, and that’s when I started taking the sport a little seriously and competitively.” It was the thrill, adventure, and the adrenaline rush for the sport that inspired him to get into it, and thereafter, he knew this was something that he had been made for. Back then, when he got into the sport professionally, there was no proper participation in the sport that was happening in Hyderabad. He further states that Hyderabad has been a little laid back in terms of Polo, compared to how it was earlier, which led him to shift to Jaipur, which has been the hub for Indian Polo.

In South India, after Chennai, Hyderabad has been a place where a polo athlete can feel more connected. However, there are three major academies in Hyderabad including Michael’s horse riding Academy, Nasr Polo, and Hyderabad Polo and Riding Club. Agreeing with us on the lack of Riding academies that train how to play Polo he shares, “Yes, there are very few Polo riding academies in and around the city of Hyderabad. There is a lack of awareness among the people of Hyderabad regarding the same. Children and parents don’t know about the contribution that equestrian sport could bring to their children. It’s basically a personality-developing skill. For those who don’t take it professionally, the thing that they can take back home after learning it is that it is not just about physical endurance but also about mental agility. Every parent should allow their children to pursue the equestrian sport because it is one such activity that builds up four main qualities in a child. The child ends up learning how to be calm, firm, consistent, and logical and these are the qualities that every leader in the city should have. To be a leader these are the qualities they should be having.”

So far in his equestrian journey, this avid horseman has gone through every discipline of the game; show jumping, dressage, tent pegging, and polo. In short, in fact he has basically trained in every aspect of the game.

His journey has been quite adventurous, we must say! “While I was schooling I’d participated in all equestrian sports, have won many national medals like around 5-6 in show jumping, 3-4 in dressage, 2 national medals in tent pegging, and about 30-40 state medals. I’d also played quite a few high-goal tournaments and also won these high-goal tournaments. All these I have achieved in a span of, about 8 years because I was very adept in this spirit,” he enthuses.

Allan had always watched videos of people who were actually killing it in this sport. He further shares that in polo his biggest inspiration was Adolfo Cambiaso, based from Argentina, and also in the field of equestrian Nick Skelton was a big role model. “He actually won the Olympics at the age of 58 and being 58 and winning an Olympic medal is a big achievement. In this sport age is not a criterion unless you have a horse that’s fit, you’re fit enough you can compete,” he equips adding, “My father has also been a big inspiration, motivation, pillar of strength, pillar of support to my passion for the sport. I don’t think all this would have been possible without my parents’ support because it is an expensive sport and without the support and understanding that they have and of course they’ve seen something in me and have been pushing me hard to achieve my goal. I’ve continued and lasted really long because of the motivation and the support that my parents have given me so far, so huge credit goes to them as well.”

Coming from a non-horsing background, learning the sport was quite a challenge for him, with no formal coach and no proper facilities in Hyderabad back then. However, with the interest and passion that both he and his dad had begun going to the grounds, discussing, reading books, watching videos, and learnt. And soon they bought their own horse. But, getting someone to guide me in the right way was still a challenge. “But life was kind enough. It brought in people at the right time, opened opportunities, and the right people came, took the effort to come and teach, gave me a couple of tips, and gave training, so it’s been a good journey but has been tough.”

His father’s passion to own a horse led to the opening of their riding academy in Sainikpuri, Secunderabad way back in the year 2000. Now they have a full fledge Michael’s Horse Riding Academy in Medchal. Their students have participated in several state and national level tournaments and won many laurels for the institution.

Allan’s love and passion for the sport had also led him to take up coaching in the Sawai Man Singh Polo and Riding Club in partnership with the Rajasthan Polo Club in Jaipur, teaching children how to ride a horse. Simultaneously, he plays Polo professionally and is promoting the sport.

Lastly, Allan hopes that the sport should soon get its due respect, and aspires for more and more people to come up to play the sport. He yearns that Hyderabad too should become a new hub for Indian Polo. “Every city has its own pros and cons. The culture, language, and people around are all different. Hyderabad to me is a home. My family, my friends, everyone are based here, and it’s one of the best places I would love to be in. However, unfortunately, there’s very little horse riding awareness or professional polo scene here,” he signs off.

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