Galloping in a solo saddle
Babu Kunnumpuram’s 15-acre lush green farmhouse in Vaniyampara, 100 km from Kochi, is hardly a noticeable one. But behind his modest house, a muddy road leads to open land enveloped by huge trees, where a stable that houses five horses stands. This is Stallion’s Valley Horse Riding Academy, Kerala’s only horse riding school. Babu leads us inside where the steeds of Kathiawari and Marwari breed, sourced from Bengaluru and Mysuru, stand ready to gallop.
Today, the academy is trotting towards a makeover. Babu has sought the Kerala government’s permission to start Green Farm, a tourist resort which will be equipped with adventure rides, trekking, a rifle-shooting course, walk-in aviary of exotic birds and pets, forest and hill camping, a homestay for horses and dormitary facility. The permission is likely to come next month.
“We will develop the academy into a huge tourist destination. The inspection team will be here next week. Some people are willing to invest and a management consultant has been roped in,” says 31-year-old Babu.
It all began in 2010 when Babu bought an English Breed from Mysuru for `50,000. “I learnt riding on my own, but when the prospect of starting a school popped up, I sought the help of Nharoth Ali, a US-trained professional rider currently involved with the Qatar Equestrian Federation. Just like driving, there are certain principles that we need to adhere to while riding a horse,” he says.
As the academy started taking shape, he bought more horses. His first student was Manu Kunnumpuram, his four-year-old nephew. By the time he turned five, Manu was riding the animal with ease, making him the youngest rider in Kerala.
“Classes are for everyone, irrespective of age, but the most important thing is the bond the rider forms with the horse. The first three days of the course is about holding its reins and walking with it. After that I teach the rider to make it trot, canter and finally gallop,” explains Babu.
The videos he uploaded on YouTube drew people to Stallion’s Valley to learn riding. “My oldest student is a 73-year-old from Ireland. People like the natural habitat here. I teach them to ride, and for experienced riders, I provide the animal and the place to ride them,” he says.
The riding academy offers various courses, including the preliminary one that lasts two months to the advanced horse trainer course, which takes a year to complete. The fee structure ranges from `5,000 to `1 lakh.
His farm is on the edge of the reserve area of Peechi Dam, and is enveloped in thick vegetation. “Horses are not comfortable on cement or in artificial surroundings. The rides are on winding muddy tracks on my farm, which resembles the natural habitat of horses,” says Babu. Taking care of a horse is a taxing process that requires patience. They have to be fed special food and medicines, and horseshoes are replaced every 40 days. “Horses are costly to maintain. Two of my horses cost Rs 1.5 lakh each. The other two were for Rs 1.25 lakh, and the young one was for Rs 75,000,” he says.
With more people wanting to learn riding, Babu has started a horse boarding facility. “Many city folk buy horses for the love of the animal, but can’t maintain them on their premises. So they bring them here. Just like the rider needs to be trained, the horses need training too, especially the ones which participate in endurance races,” says Babu, who took part in the Kross Terrain Endurance Ride 2014 in Jodhpur.