Fouaad Mirza: New kid on the block

Interview

PROUD FAMILY: Asian Games double silver medallist Fouaad Mirza is flanked by his parents Indira Basapa and Dr Hasneyn Mirza at their Vasanthnagar bunglow in Bengaluru. DH PHOTO/ JANARDHAN B K

Entering the quaint Mirza bunglow in a bustling part of Bengaluru, one can’t help but notice a love for horses -- a two-seater on the patio displaying cushions with bold images of studs.

The notion is reaffirmed as, inside, the staircase is lined with photographs aplenty of different breeds and sizes, exposing the magnitude of fondness this family expresses.

With the initial impression, it comes as no surprise that Fouaad Mirza ended India’s 32-year equestrian medal drought, as the Bengaluru lad came up with an admirable display clinching silver medals in the Individual and Team Eventing categories at the ongoing Asian Games in Jakarta.

Poised and pragmatic, the Embassy International Riding School ward reveals: “It’s a great feeling to win a medal and I am very thankful to Jitu Virwani for supporting me and giving me all the ammunition to go out and do what we did. It is a bit overwhelming at the moment but it’s all slowly sinking in. So I want to leave the country as soon as possible, focus and get back to work.”

An insatiable hunger for precision, perfection and success stem from the Fouaad’s lineage, which includes the dewan of the former princely State of Mysore -- Sir Mirza Ismail. Close to 200 years ago Aga Ali Asker, an Iranian trader, descended on the city with a harass of horses and eventually set base in the city. Fouaad belongs to the seventh generation in that bloodline.

Fouaad’s father, Dr Hasneyn Mirza, a well known veterinarian renowned for his work in the equestrian field, narrated his rich family history.

“Well there was an Aga Ali Askar who came from Iran in 1824 and brought horses with him. We have records to show that the family was involved with horses and racing for many years before it arrived here. I am of sixth generation in the lineage. Since Ali Asker arrived, our association with horses has been unbroken. At one time, he had nearly 700 horses stabled behind his house near Fathima bakery. Behind that (Johnson Market), the area is called Arab Lanes because all the Arabian horses were stabled there.”

Dr Hasneyn has been an avid rider like the rest of his ancestors and sitting in the stands as his son brought India laurels evoked a concoction of emotions.

“It brought about mixed feelings,” divulged the senior Mirza. “I was thrilled that he had won us a medal after 36 years and that everything had gone according to plan. But little disappointed that it wasn’t a gold because he led at the end of the dressage and timed his cross-country to perfection. Everything was precise till that number two fence. I guess I’ll always look number two fences in a different light from now on (laughs).”

Despite being comprehensively equipped to succeed at higher levels of his sport, the 2018 Asian Games didn’t quite begin on an auspicious note for Fouaad. In June, the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) began a needless fracas by refusing to send the team for the quadrennial event. It took a massive effort from Virwani, EFI vice president (finance) to eventually coax the big wigs and ensure participation, a silver lining in hindsight.    

Focused

Through the melee Fouaad, an athlete with great levels of focus and determination, remained unflustered and focused on the job at hand, confident that his ‘Jitu uncle’ would sort things out.

“The returns were obviously not as good as winning the gold. But yes, I always knew that we would participate considering Mr Virwani and EIRS had our back. There was a lot of investment and time that went into this so at the back of my mind, I knew people wouldn’t let this go that easily,” said the 26-year-old who trains in Warendorf, Germany under Olympic bronze medallist Bettina Hoy.

In fact, Fouaad’s silver-winning ride, Seigneur Medicott, was previously owned by the Olympian.

With high praise for the gelding (circumcised male horse) and his coach, Fouaad said: “(I) partnered (Seigneur Medicott) in October last year. We had a great start but then went through a slight rough patch. He’s a very talented and experienced horse. I didn’t have the buttons right at one point but still had to get used to him. But now, we’re a solid partnership.

“She’s (Hoy) an unbelievable trainer. She’s very tough and completely different to what I have been used to. I know a lot of people who can’t cope with the intensity of her methods but in the end it pays off. I’ll be honest, sometimes I don’t want to go back for another training session but if you can’t take the heat, you need to get out of the kitchen!” he added detailing his grind.

Fouaad will next look to up his game as he directs all his energy towards punching his ticket for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a dream that he shares with his father.

“Long term goal is to qualify for Tokyo 2020. Need to figure the World Rankings and be consistent in three-star and four-star events. The process has to start from today. Need to prepare the horses to this level and compete at our best. It’s an achievable goal but there is a lot of work to be done,” was Fouaad’s take, while his father was eager to push his son to challenge top riders.

“I would love to see him participate in the Olympics. The medal winner gets a blue Omega, so I’ve often asked him, ‘buddy, where’s the blue Omega?’ To get there will be amazing. But it’s not about going there and being part of the furniture. You need to be able to be competitive. It definitely is not about just getting there. People need to look at you and feel that you are a threat. Win, lose or draw is a different matter. You need to be known as a worthy competitor.”

From spending his younger days riding ponies close to Jakkur lake and fighting cocks with his brother Alyasker, Fouaad has definitely seen stellar growth in his career with sky being the limit now for this trailblazer.

  • Fouaad Mirza
  • Equestrian
  • Asian Games