Life upon Horseback: The Glory and the Pledge
Ajai Appachu: luminary athlete, global competitor, inspiration. His competence is showcased through his trio of consecutive wins at the ‘FEI World Show Jumping Championship’, coupled with his individual gold for the country during his time representing India in Seoul, South Korea, for ‘Show Jumping in an International CSI’. Amongst his many qualifications, the star equestrian has further represented India in Venezuela, South America and Kyalami, South Africa. Ajai’s perseverance to outshine his fellow riders, and the assiduity he possesses while on horseback, has rewarded him with the honorary Eklavya Award. Distinctly so, he has exploited his flair for equestrianism (particularly show jumping), and reached heights widely unfamiliar to the populace; he is the only Indian rider to have ever qualified for the ‘World Championship for Young Horses’, in Lanaken, Belgium.
°Across the spectrum, across the map
A journey laced with laurels, Ajai’s story is one of diligence, enthusiasm, and an untameable passion. ‘My father put me into it, he pushed me into horse riding’, he says during his interview with TheVibe. Quite certainly, Major General CJ Appachu, AVSM (retired), gifted Ajai with an insight into the world of equestrianism; yet, growing up, he honed an innate talent to excel as an athlete generically. Thus, prior to horse riding, Ajai explored a diversity of sports which seemed to favour his commitment. An adroitness which was widely noticeable, his sisters, Nitya and Niyata, have proclaimed they ‘knew that it would be the winning team’ (regardless of the game) simply if Ajai was on it.
The athlete inevitably hit the ground running (quite literally); he begun with football where he advanced on to captain the West Zone Team, and further played for the East Zone Team, whilst still being an active student at school. Parallel to his football games, he swam for the SAI, ‘Sports Authority of India’, Talkatora Stadium, New Delhi. Additionally, he was chosen to play for the Cricket Association of Bengal while in senior school. Growing up in a military household, his family constantly shifted across the country, which is what served to enlighten Ajai’s passion to explore myriad sports.
°Venturing into Equestrianism
Ajai states he ‘started with horse riding at 17’, while he was still ‘passionate about joining the army’. His initial migration into the world of horse riding was fuelled by his father’s relaying of the information that it was an unquestionable necessity in the armed forces. Within this diverse bubble, Ajai started off as a notable polo player, however, he soon discovered his fervour was directed more towards show jumping. Almost instantly, he found himself garnering both recognition and triumph; within no time at all, Ajai was travelling abroad, to parts of Europe and the United Kingdom, where he was based for months and years at a time to train, compete and assure the country its wins. ‘I was based in Leicestershire, I was living out there’, he informs us. ‘I left England in 2016 and moved to Europe, to Budapest’.
Ajai attests that ‘the potential of horses is much higher in Europe than in India’, particularly because the sport is unaccustomed to widespread attention within the country. Out there in England and Europe, he was able to train with ‘proper well-bred horses that were meant for show jumping’; he recalls a captivating mare named ‘Verona’ amongst the many horses he competed on, alongside ‘Charmeur’- another favourite of his. Despite the availability of trained horses, Ajai possessed an atypical intuition to transform ordinary horses into champions. His sisters are amongst those left exceedingly awed by this aptitude of his; they say ‘it’s like he speaks to them and they listen’, which seems to be precisely the case when he brought off a commonplace horse from a local in England.
To quote the conjuror himself, he ‘saw a horse on the road and kind of really liked it’; Ajai’s ardour and perception rewarded him with ‘Baleros Ball’, a victor in its own stead. The horse was ‘quite the show jumper’, befitting Ajai’s talent, and putting inbred show jumping horses to shame. Excluding ordinary horses, he also dealt with ex-race horses who are unwanted contenders (within horseracing) since they ‘finish their race careers quite young, as soon as they’re 4-6 years old’, Ajai remarks.
Unfortunately, as of yet, Ajai is unable to compete due to a severe illness he was diagnosed with in 2018. A depiction of the events that unfolded, he narrates the proceedings as follows: ‘What happened to me was I was riding and competing in Europe. In 2018, I was preparing to compete for the Asian games in Europe, but I don’t remember a thing from it. I had no memory of it. They diagnosed me with TB, and apparently it doesn’t exist in Europe. So, my sister and a close colleague of mine flew down to where I was admitted in Budapest. They flew me back to India’. Ajai proceeded to undergo the necessary surgeries over time, alongside physiotherapy as well.
Presently, the competitor is quite optimistic about his future since he was actively pursuing treatment at the Apollo Hospital within Chennai, which is the sole one within the continent offering a robotics treatment. However, due to the global pandemic, he has returned home to Bangalore for a while. This hasn’t fazed Ajai in the slightest though, as he enlightens us with news of his state- ‘I’m much better mentally, and physically as well’. Evidently, his perseverance and vigour from his time upon horseback is embedded within his frame. The standards he has set globally call to him even now as Ajai is ‘dying to get back to his horses’.
Nitya and Niyata deem him their ‘superhero’; to them and to the rest of us subsequently, ‘Ajai is a winner, the champ, and he makes us proud every single day’. His voyage is a singularity in itself: an extraordinary, rousing narrative of a man’s zeal for horses; for loving them, for training them, and for competing upon them.