By Quaid Najmi

Mumbai, Apr 11 (IANS): At least 50 thoroughbred horses from Rajasthan and a dozen from Delhi are currently stranded along with 25 grooms at the Amateur Riders’ Club (ARC) in Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Racecourse, causing worries for their owners and the club authorities.

These visiting horses are currently among 200-plus stabled in forced isolation at the ARC premises, along with 125 grooms — their trained caretakers — said ARC President Shyam Mehta.

“The horses and grooms had come to take part in our annual 4-week March Polo season, including 3 players and umpires from Argentina and one from the United Kingdom. Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, we cut short the Polo season by two weeks,” Mehta told IANS.

While the umpires and players from abroad managed to catch a flight back to their country on March 21, the horses and grooms from Delhi and Rajasthan are stuck in Mumbai as the state and nation have been locked down from March 24 and March 25 respectively.

“We are now taking care of the visiting horses and the 150 local horses, and all the 125-odd grooms who live in the club, till the lockdown is lifted. All the visiting horses are privately-owned, but from the locals, around 120 horses are privately-owned and the rest by the ARC,” Mehta said.

Fortunately, the Rajasthan government has acceded to the pleas of the horse-owners and decided to allow their transport back home, but permission of Delhi and Maharashtra governments is awaited.

If cleared, the horses will soon undertake a roughly two-day journey by specialized ‘horse ambulances’ to the familiar fields in their home states, he said.

Meanwhile, the ARC’s hands — and stables — are full with so many horses and grooms in isolation, as per the lockdown norms, and Mehta admitted it was burning a big hole in the club pockets.

“Each horse needs to be fed around 50kg and some 30 kg of oats, barley and bran per week, besides taking care of their health needs. Initially, we had great problems sourcing such large quantities of horse feed, but now supplies have stabilized,” he said.

“Every resource is currently dedicated for all the horses and the grooms along with necessary safety, health and hygiene standards in and around the stables. Our members and horse-owners as well as the masters of the visiting horses and the grooms have full faith in us,” Mehta said.

“We are deeply concerneda In case the lockdown is extended, then the situation may be alarming and very challenging for us,” Mehta said.

All the horses and grooms are under strict isolation and maintain social distancing, all the food and facilities are delivered directly to them, no entry-exit is permitted, no visits including by owners or members, no riding permitted, barring the occasional trip by a veterinary doctor to check on the horses’ health.

Established in 1942, the ARC is one of the oldest and biggest private civilian horse riding clubs in India offering riding opportunities to members and non-members round the year.

It also provides professional training in various equestrian disciplines like Polo, Show Jumping and Dressage, and over the years, Bollywood actors, royalty, businessmen and others have been trained at ARC under top class coaches from India and abroad.

The ARC has 4 horse riding arenas including a world-class floodlit arena and a Polo field where it hosts the annual Mumbai Horse Show, prestigious tourneys like ‘Maharaj Prem Singh Trophy’, ‘Aditya Birla Memorial Cup’, ‘South Command Cup’ and others for Polo enthusiasts from around the world.

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