Saddled up for the trail

From the albums

Saddled up for the trail

This picture was taken in 2004 during a photoshoot of the world’s first all-women racing syndicates. It was a group of 10 women, owning racehorses, who got together.

I remember how back then, horse riding was traditionally a male-dominated sport and owning a horse that was ridden by a woman jockey was the talk of the town.

That day, I wanted everything to go smoothly as we were shooting with very young and great horses that belonged to a syndicate. The horse that I am sitting on is ‘Sandokan’. He has retired now but is still with me. The other one, ‘La Bella Vita’, is now in Delhi.Moving around with these horses, knowing that they are admired and loved by many, felt great.

All these glamorous women in the picture added a lot of fun and colour to the occasion. Even now, whenever we all get-together, it is all about laughter and tears of joy. We bond over the happiness of owning these horses and not races. 

On this particular day, the horses were the centre of attention. However, my attention was more focussed on keeping the horses from harming the ladies. Though I was excited about the photoshoot, I was also pretty worried.

Reminiscing about my riding days, I remember I started at the young age of 13. When I first came to India as an Italian tourist in 1978, I instantly fell in love with the country.
 I soon moved to Kodaikanal where I was riding for 15 years, and the opportunity to become a jockey came out of nowhere. Before I knew it, I was all set to become one.

There were many challenges along the way but I was lucky to have a great trainer like Irfan Ghatala by my side. I soon got my jockey licence in Chennai, after which I came to Bengaluru, where I was the only woman rider for 17 years in India and the only woman jockey in the world to have won two derbies.

I am still in touch with most of the women in the picture. Judith is a dear friend and my
colleague at that time who rode with me in the same riding school.

Deepa Sahni is a horse owner and still, keeps her horses in the riding school. However, she is now confined to competitions like jumping and dressage and is not into horse racing anymore.

Vandana Sood’s son, like her, is also into horses and her ex-husband Jitu Virwani is the owner of Embassy International Riding School. Similarly, Nandini Basappa still has her own retired horse at the riding school and her daughter is also completely into riding. 
The children of most of the women seen in the picture have also built a relationship with horses, which is very pleasing to see. This proves that the connection with horses has only grown stronger over the years.

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