Participating in R-Day Parade Since Age of 4, 'Rio' Will Carry Contingent Commander on His Back for 15th Time
'Rio', a prized horse of the 61 Cavalry regiment, is no stranger to ceremonial duties, and when he saunters down Rajpath carrying the contingent commander on his back this Republic Day, the bay-colour charger will make his 18th appearance at the grand event. A pure Hanoverian breed, 'Rio', aged 22, was born in India, and has been participating in the Republic Day parade since he was four, says Captain Deepanshu Sheoran, who will be leading the contingent of the world's only serving horse-mounted cavalry regiment, for the third time.
"Rio is a very special horse. He understands the words of the commander. It's a matter of great pride that on this Republic Day, he will make his 18th appearance on Rajpath as the member of the 61 Cavalry and will carry a contingent commander on his back for the 15th time," Sheoran told PTI. Raised in 1953, the 61 Cavalry, based in Jaipur, has been a prominent feature at the Republic Day parade since its inception. It was set up after amalgamation of units of six erstwhile royal state forces, including Mysore Lancers, Jodhpur Lancers and Gwalior Lancers.
The regiment's ancestors in 1918 had fought the crucial Battle of Haifa in Israel, alongside the British armed forces. Sheoran, 27, who hails from Kashipur, Uttarakhand, says riding on a horse down the Rajpath in a ceremonial uniform is itself an exhilarating and humbling experience, and mounted on 'Rio' makes it extra special.
"He (Rio) has been specialised for ceremonial services and we take good care of him. He also listens to our words and follows diligently," says the young officer who picked up equestrian skills during his NDA days. Sheoran, a fourth-generation member of the armed forces from his family, is all praises for his cavalry regiment, which he hails as the "link between the past and the present" of the country's army.
"I joined NDA (National Defence Academy) in 2011 and IMA (Indian Military Academy) in 2015. It was during NDA days that I picked up equestrian skills and in 2014 represented the country in the under-25 tent-pegging event at a competition in South Africa, with India, Pakistan and South Africa as the contestants. I was adjudged the best rider, and so my interest and affinity for horses grew," Sheoran said. Asked if it was a challenge to prepare for the event amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, "Yes, it was a big challenge".
"The number of horses has been reduced this time to 43, so just a little behind me will be a JCO on Veeru, also on a bay horse, and the trumpeter on Duke, a gray horse, and following them will be a mounted contingent in a 5×8 formation," he said. During the practice, a lot of precautions were taken, from maintaining social distancing to ensuring regular hand sanitisation, the officer said.
"We used to practice with less horses, and did not share equestrian gears, and wore masks all the time. Though it's my third Republic Day participation as the contingent commander of this famed regiment, it felt very new this time," he added. Sheoran calls himself an animal lover and said he shares affinity for horses.
"When we begin to understand a speechless animal, that's when we become true animal lovers. Currently, I am preparing for the next South Asian games trials, and I have two private horses. One called 'Victoria', whom I got from England, she is 5, and the other one is 'Francisco Dream' and she is 10," he said. Sheoran first led the contingent in the 2018 and then in 2020 and says his love for horses had only magnified.
"This will be my third time, but walking on Rajpath can never be an ordinary experiment. This time, I feel more confident in leading the contingent of the 61 Cavalry," he said. The regimental insignia is adapted from Gandaberunda of the Mysore Lancers, consisting of a twin-headed mythical bird and a scroll below with the words 'Sixty First Cavalry'. The shoulder plate has '61C' embossed in brass. The motto of the regiment is 'AshvaShakti Yashobal'.
"The 61 Cavalry is also known for its achievements in equestrian events and other sporting arena. It has won 12 Arjuna Awards, besides winning accolades in other games. We believe in the power of horses as our motto says," he said.