(January 20, 2022) She is the veritable horse whisperer. And champion horse rider. Kavya Gopal understands the animal’s temperament, is instinctive. Thus, horses share a special bond with her.
The Chennai-born demonstrated her resolve and grit as she clinched two gold medals at the Junior National Equestrian Championship held in Mumbai in December 2021. “Winning two golds (individual and team gold) was phenomenal, incredible and overwhelming. Intense training and hard work paid off. There is more to come,” smiles Kavya in an exclusive with Global Indian. She is now prepping up for horse riding championships on the international level.
The first time Kavya rode a horse was on a family vacation to Manali when she was six. “It was a giant horse named Mustafa. I confidently sat on him with no fear. I told the horse owner to walk aside instead of holding the horse. I held the reins bravely and rode all around the place,” recalls Kavya, now 20. Her parents — AS Gopal and Kavita Gopal, too, were surprised seeing their daughter ride the horse fearlessly.
At age 12, her father took her to the Madras Riding School (now Madras School of Equitation). “When I sat on the horse, the coach was surprised to see my perfect stance. I kept riding there. After each ride, I would feed carrots to the horses to build a relationship off the saddle. It was amazing to connect with them. I fell in love with the sport,” recalls Kavya, who is now pursuing MBA (online) from Manipal University.
The fall, and getting back up
Kavya has suffered multiple sprains and injuries as a horse bucked or threw her off. She was even rushed to a hospital after a fall. Her first though was six months into horse riding. Her favourite horse, Pelican Creek, buckled and threw her off and she landed on the ground, shaken. Most horses run towards the stable after buckling for a sense of safety. But in Kavya’s case, it stood there, staring. “Looking into her eyes, I understood that she was telling me not to take her for granted and give accurate riding aids (cues given to a horse). She seemed to understand that I was learning but wanted me to pay attention to proper riding aids to work well as a team,” informs Kavya, who went to Vidya Mandir Senior Secondary School in Chennai after completing a BSc in zoology for three years from Stella Maris College.
Communication that is silent, yet apt
Such is her bonding with horses that Kavya did a detailed project on horse behaviour for her final year college project. “I delved deep into a horse’s behaviour, which was an eye opener, not only for me but for my professors too. They were surprised to know how a horse communicates with humans through a silent method,” informs Kavya, who did her diploma in equine management and psychology from the Centre of Excellence.
Kavya loves that all her communication happens in silence. “There is no beating, shouting or controlling the animal. It just needs to be trained and it communicates beautifully,” she says.
After a great deal of time and effort, one can build a partnership off the saddle. “I give them treats by offering carrots, bananas or jaggery, or massage them, walk or even play music as horses love to listen to music,” informs the horse-riding champ, stressing that the horse should be able to feel the presence, body language and temperament of a rider.
Horse-riding comes with its own dangers. Worldwide, horse riders have suffered severe injuries. Kavya has been lucky, though. “I have had a few mishaps – I sprained my leg, lower back and shoulder. Luckily, it was not serious,” adds the girl whose father is CEO at Infinitheism, a spiritual foundation company and mother is a project manager at IIT Madras.
A ‘Supreme Quest’ to cherish
Kavya was the proud owner of a thoroughbred named Supreme Quest which she bought in June 2020, and sold in December 2021. “He was with me for a year, we understood each other so well. We had a great partnership. I get to see him every day as he is in the same stable (Madras School of Equitation) from where I had bought him,” informs Kavya, who has also done show jumping and dressage with Supreme Quest.
Winning two gold medals at the Junior National Equestrian Championships takes dedication, a competition she has participated in for the past four years. “Six months before the championship, my father guided me into meditation. I would be asked to visualise my dressage (a form of horse riding in competitions which can be individual or team events), precision, accuracy and even winning the gold. It helped me a great deal in building confidence,” says the girl who eats nutritious food and weight trains four days a week, besides cardio to up her stamina and focus. Horse riding has a sacrosanct time – a few hours in the morning and evening.
Her first participation in the championship was in Kolkata, riding a pony – to gain exposure and understand horses. The second was held in Bengaluru on a leased horse (which did not go well). The third time, she won her first team silver on Supreme Quest and the fourth was in Mumbai 2021 where she won two gold medals in the Young Rider Dressage category. She won the individual gold medal with a score of 73.3475. In Dressage, the horse responds to a skilled rider’s minimal aids by performing requested movement while remaining relaxed and effortless.
The rider is a champ
Kavya’s passion for horses even got her a job at the Madras School of Equitation. She coaches young riders and trains horses at ₹15,000 a month. “I am at the centre in the mornings and evenings where I give classes, ride horses, feed and train them,” says the rider who prefers warm blood horses who are naturally bred for show jumping and dressage.
“Warmbloods have amazing natural gait, have the subtleness, and are great for young riders. I won the nationals (December 2021) on a German bred warmblood named Sechs Richtige,” the Indian horse rider adds.
Riding with the wind in her hair, she now wants to improve her skill set and train in the higher levels of dressage. “I am looking forward to participating in international championships organised by the Federation Equestrian International,” says Kavya who will be training under professional coaches and working with higher level horses at Talland School of Equitation, UK soon. Previously, she had trained at the Summer House Equestrian Centre, UK for a month too. A career in equine therapy and nutrition or as a professional dressage coach is on Kavya’s mind as she praises her Coach Isabelle Futnani’s support and training.
The avid swimmer who had even won a state level competition at just 10, calls her parents her pillars of strength. She hopes the government will recognise the sport as equivalent to cricket and football. “This sport is expensive and financial constraints deter those interested. To encourage people, the government can look at sponsoring them,” concludes Kavya.