"My horses fought hard for me," a drained and delighted Fouaad Mirza would offer in gratitude, hours after officially confirming his Tokyo Olympics spot. The double Asian Games silver medalist equestrian finished second and third respectively on Seigneur Medicott and Dajara 4 to complete his Minimum Eligibility Requirement in the CCI 4*- L at the Baborowko Equestrian festival in Poland. Soon after, he was driving a trailer to his training base in Bergedorf, a village in north-west Germany, with his horses in tow.
He is only the third Indian equestrian after Indrajit Lamba and Imtiaz Anees, and the first in over two decades, to secure an individual spot in Eventing at the Olympic Games. He had earned a quota last year and the MER fulfillment ticks the final box in qualification. At an event in Strzegom, Poland last month, Mirza fell short of meeting his MER after he had (riding Dajara 4) a stop in one of the last combinations on course.
Quite literally, there was a lot riding on how this weekend turned out for Mirza. "There was a good deal of pressure going into the weekend because it was the last chance for me to get my MER so I had to focus real hard," said Mirza, "We eventually managed to do it in style and it shows my horses are in good form, and I'm doing well too."
Mirza had to contend with a challenging start to the year following the outbreak of the Equine Herpes Virus among horses, forcing his horse, Dajara 4, into quarantine and leading to cancelled events until April. "Ideally I'd have liked to complete my MER earlier this year but because of the EHV it was pretty much left to the last minute, which didn't help with the pressure, of course. But look, it's worked out in our favour. We're going to have a couple of weeks rest now and then crack on with our training. Before heading to Tokyo, we'd like to get into one more competition hopefully, so I'll have to take a look at the schedule and see when we can fit it in."
This weekend's three-day equestrian triathlon of Eventing, which consists of dressage, cross-country and show jumping, had the 29 year-old from Bengaluru maintaining his position inside the top two from the first two events. In cross-country, the partnership between horse and rider and their endurance through varied, difficult terrain is tested. His horse Seigneur Medicott was making a return to competition after suffering an injury two years ago. Mirza completed the cross country portion of the competition - 41 jumps over 29 obstacles through a course distance of 5700m without picking up any penalties.
Three grueling days of competitions, the fatigue in his muscles spilling into his voice, yet all Mirza can think of is his equines being troubled by the imposition of a road trip. It's almost a parent-child relationship, where he fusses over their meals, sleep and everyday routine, knowing they lean on him for survival. In turn, he counts on them for his sustenance in the sport. "The most important thing for me," says Mirza, "is to get the horses back home soon, let them rest and make sure they are fit and well. I'm just so pleased and lucky to have them."