Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An Equestrian for All Seasons

Azam Hayat Noon: An Equestrian for All Seasons

Crack. You can hear it along the sidelines, intensifying as the score is tied.  Polo mallets swinging down to earth to collide with a tiny ball.  The field is alive with thundering horses and powerful players. Sod rises and falls as hooves scatter on demand; horses eyeing the goal. Crack. A goal scored as the crowd cheers. A goal for the home team – Azam’s polo team; a goal comprised of athletic abilities, radiant horses, and cohesive riders.

Polo is just one of Azam Hayat Noon’s passions. Besides playing polo, Azam is an avid hunter, exceptional artist, horse breeder and all-around equestrian.  From Lahore, Pakistan, Azam embraces life.  Returning recently from a polo and hunting excursion, Azam talks about his adventures and his love for horses.  Azam states, “I come from a land-owning family and grew up on a farm. My father did not ride but encouraged his sons to do so.  I was put on a horse when I was about four years old, and that was the day I became addicted.  I ran around on our farm till the age of six when I was sent to the city to school.  While in school, I lived with my uncle on his farm and I rode the farm manager’s mares, the mares they used to check the farmhand’s work.”

As Azam grew, so did his love for horses.  He attended Aitchison College in Lahore.  At Aitchison, he had access to over forty horses. Azam was able to ride horseback to school everyday.  It was during this time that Azam learned the thrill of hunting on horseback.  Azam explains, “We grew up seeing our father hunt boar on foot with a shotgun and saw some of the farmhands on horses in the beat, and chasing the boar. It was natural that we combined the two interests and ended up chasing boar on horseback with either a shotgun or a spear. Not the kind of spear you throw, but the heavy kind that one would thrust. As children we had only one saddle between us and so we had to take turns. Riding bareback every other day for hours gave us good balance and a strong grip.” 

“Boar hunting used to be a great day out,” Azam smiles. “The evening before the excitement was very high getting things organized and deciding what time the horses were leaving.  Sometimes, if going far, we would leave early in the morning before sunrise.  Everyone was up early getting food cooked for all the beaters and their dogs.  The dogs were bullterriers, lurchers and crossbreeds.  Half of the horsemen were our farmhands and the other half were village people fond of hunting.  They would get the guns and cartridges ready as well as the transport for the beaters.  We would drive to the river where we found the horses ready and rested after a three hour walk. All the hunting was done in the tall grass.” Beaters traveled ahead of the hunters, tracking the elusive game.  The beat was a mix of horses, men and dogs waiting for a boar to thrash through the tall grass. 

“The moment a boar got up all hell broke loose,” Azam remembers. “The dogs, horsemen and the beaters all chased. The men stopping for breathe first, then the dogs; the horses chased the longest, sometimes going for a few miles.  On uneven broken country with tall grass you see the boar in the openings, get close to it, and then loose it again in the thicket. Someone else sees it and shouts and the chase is on again, the horses panting and sweating, running through grass, jumping over ditches and holes. There were times when the horse and rider had a tumble, but most riders were saved with bruises and scratches.” Boars, with their grayish-black hide and gnarly temperament, can be formidable prey.  At almost six feet long, and up to 450 lbs, an angered boar is capable of toppling a horse and rider.

Azam continues, “The thrill of the galloping horse, reins tied into a knot for easy handling, the horses learn to follow their prey. Loading and firing the double barrel shotgun at a fast pace on uneven ground gets your heart pounding and your breathing heavy; the uplift of your heart, the love of the chase. One way is to shoot from the galloping horse. The real horseman used the spear. To control the horse and to guide the spear into the angry boar is not a job for the faint heart. Only the best horseman and the bravest of the brave attempt it. The hunt and the chase in the day and the cheerful storytelling on the long way back home, walking in pitch dark the man and beast all have their sights on getting home after a very long day, and going to their comfortable beds. On the way back stories of hunting and songs of legends past make the tiresome journey back bearable.”  Great memories of bravery and symmetry on a steady mount; posterity that Azam shares with his son, family and friends.

As a horse breeder, Azam is familiar with the local equine stock and keeps abreast of horse market trends.  “I breed thoroughbreds for track and for polo for myself. I am going to start breeding Desi’s as well. Their prices have gone up and they are viable to breed now. I am also going to get a stallion for tentpegging; I am starting tentpegging again after many years break.  Desi’s vary a lot in height, from 14.2 hh to about 15.1 hh, some growing even taller.”  With the increase in interest, the Desi breed is becoming popular as a sport horse as well as a worthy companion.

The Desi horse is legendary in Pakistan.  Azam explains, “The Desi horse is a mix of the local subcontinent horse and the imports from Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran and central Asia over the last few centuries. As you know, before 1947 India and Pakistan were one and there were no physical boundaries so the horses moved around and mixed with different breeds. The Kathiawari breed has ears that are more bent at the top - almost touching. I think that might be that they are more pure in their blood. The Desi’s don’t have those ears, showing more influence of the imports. The Desi’s are a hot blood breed with the chest not so broad, and short quarters compared to thoroughbreds, and the quarters are more sloping, short back, high head carriage, comes out high from the withers. The back legs are a little weak, cow hocked sometimes, very light ride, good first burst but not as fast as the thoroughbreds on longer sprints. I am not a big expert on them but this is what I think and have learned over the years. Others might see things differently.”

As an artist, Azam’s paintings are exceptional.  Sketching his native fauna, he captures their spirit and beauty in each finished painting. Azam’s technique is soft and expressive. Earthy hues and shades, blending and layering, all add to the quality of his art. Horses, quails and other familiar animals come to life through Azam’s artwork.

Polo, tentpegging, hunting – all on horseback.  Azam is an equestrian for all seasons.  As an artist, Azam’s passion for nature and the thrill of adventure comes through.  A talented and congenial man, Azam is excited to showcase his equine sports, athletic horses and zest for life.  Preparing for polo and tentpegging is a year-round thought and mindset for Azam.  He will play every chucker and every match with the passion of a hunter, the thrill of an equestrian and the heart of a winner.   

(c) Gina McKnight, Freelance Writer, Ohio, USA 

Original Publication 2012 Going Gaited
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Azam, I went to school with you at Indiana University. Please contact me at if you see this.

Iqbal Mustafa Khan