Seigneur Medicott is built like a ‘marathoner’, can battle it out in tough cross-country courses and is a frequent flier, unfazed by the change in surroundings. Dajara 4 is shaped like a ‘powerlifter’, can help pocket double the points with her graceful jumps but is an anxious traveller.
Like other Olympics-bound Indian teams, Fouaad Mirza is staring at a selection headache of his own. With the Tokyo Games less than two months away, the Indian rider has to finalise which one of his two horses will accompany him: Medicott, the experienced gelding, or the young mare, Dajara. “Both are healthy and fit,” Mirza says. “On paper, it’s very hard to choose between them.”
But choose he must.
On Sunday, in the Polish village of Baborowko, Mirza confirmed his qualification for the Tokyo Olympics. The 29-year-old had won a quota last year but according to the rules, he had to meet the Minimum Eligibility Requirement to be able to compete at the Games, which begin on July 23. He completed the formality over the weekend, to officially become the first Indian rider to make the cut for the Olympics since Imtiaz Anees, who competed in Sydney as a wildcard.
Unlike other competitions, the 29-year-old will be able to take just one horse to the Olympics. However, much like in any other sport, picking the right teammate will be critical. And as Mirza explains, when it comes to selecting horses, is as much about analysing their mood as it is about form. “The experience of travelling around helps,” he says.
Medicott, nicknamed Mickey, has travelled so much that taking a flight – the mode of transport to Tokyo – does not bother him much. “Mentally, he would be a bit more settled but for Dajara, everything is new. That’s the case usually with mares; if something had to change, it puts them off a bit. So wherever we are, our routine with them has to be as close as possible to home,” Mirza says.
Home for Mirza and the horses is Bergedorf, Germany. Over the next few weeks, Mirza will conduct a selection trial of sorts, putting them through different tests.
Medicott, he says, is what they call in equestrian terms a blood horse. “It means he is like a racehorse. Mickey is built like a marathon runner. He has a lighter body type. Dajara, on the other hand, is built more like a powerlifter; heavier and stronger,” Mirza says.
Dajara’s frame, though, puts her at a disadvantage. Her size and the muscle mass she carries can make her lethargic in a warm and humid climate, which is how Tokyo is expected to be during the Olympics.
Medicott has already proven himself in such conditions. Astride the now 15-year-old, Mirza broke India’s 36-year-old medal drought at the Asian Games by winning a silver medal at Jakarta 2018. It has been the highest point of Mirza and Medicott’s long relationship. But then, Medicott got injured and in his absence, Mirza teamed up with other horses, one of them being Dajara.
Dajara is five years younger than Medicott. She lacks the experience and temperament of competing in big events but her one quality could be critical in Tokyo: jumping. At the Olympics, the rider-horse team will compete in three rounds – dressage, eventing (which also includes a jumping phase) and jumping. “That is Dajara’s forte, so it’s definitely good for her,” Mirza says.
Both are roughly at the same level in dressage while Medicott pips Dajara in the cross-country. “Mickey holds a bit more experience as he has been around the block, has done some difficult competitions and knows his job,” Mirza says. “Dajara is just starting to do difficult courses. But in Poland, both of them did really well on a course and in conditions that were really tough.”
Poland was the last chance saloon for Mirza, who has spent several sleepless nights trying to meet his MER. Almost the entire 2020 season got wiped off because of the pandemic. After the Covid-19 situation got under control and equestrian shows began across Europe earlier this year, a herpes virus among horses cut short the season.
Quarantine rules for Mirza as well as his horses made it tougher for him to compete in a lot of events, leaving him with just two opportunities to secure his qualification. “There was one show in Britain but due to Brexit, the logistics of travelling there with horses was very tricky. So Poland was my last chance. If I had missed this, the Olympics would have gone as well,” he says.
Mirza says the pressure, which often brings the best out of him, has jolted him into action so close to the Olympics. Not only him, the horses too. “They both put up a convincing performance and showed we are on track to peak at the Olympics,” he says.
All three of them will be vaccinated – Mirza got his first Covid-19 jab while the horses got inoculated for the herpes virus — but just one horse will travel with Mirza. And he says they will be feeling the pressure too. “The horses will be able to feel the pressure. They can feel the urgency with your grip and then rise to the occasion along with you. Hence, the partnership between the horse and the rider is everything,” he says.