For real Sikhs, the importance of keeping horses and horse riding is essential. Sikhs have had an association with horses originating from the Sikh Gurus. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib mentions "horses" many times, in a variety of discourses. How can we understand certain Sikh concepts, Gurbani references or Sikh history if we have not experienced horse riding for ourselves? Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji said;
ਘੋੜੇ ਪਾਖਰ ਸੁਇਨੇ ਸਾਖਤਿ ਬੂਝਣੁ ਤੇਰੀ ਵਾਟ ॥
Gẖoṛe Pākẖar Su▫ine Sākẖaṯ Būjẖaṇ Ṯerī Vāt ||
The understanding of your way, God, is horses, saddles and bags of gold for me.
ਤਰਕਸ ਤੀਰ ਕਮਾਣ ਸਾਂਗ ਤੇਗਬੰਦ ਗੁਣ ਧਾਤੁ ॥
Ŧarkas Ṯīr Kamāṇ Sāŉg Ṯegbanḏ Guṇ Ḏẖāṯ ||
The pursuit of virtue is my bow and arrow, my quiver, sword and scabbard.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Nanak, Sri Raag, Ang 16
Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji provided further clarity;
ਤਿਨ ਕੇ ਤੁਰੇ ਜੀਨ ਖੁਰਗੀਰ ਸਭਿ ਪਵਿਤੁ ਹਹਿ ਜਿਨੀ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸਿਖ ਸਾਧ ਸੰਤ ਚੜਿ ਜਾਤੇ ॥
Ŧin Ke Ṯure Jīn Kẖurgīr Sabẖ Paviṯ Hėh Jinī Gurmukẖ Sikẖ Sāḏẖ Sanṯ Cẖaṛ Jāṯe ||
All the horses, saddles and horse blankets are sacred, upon which the Gurmukhs, the Sikhs, the Holy and the Saints, mount and ride.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Arjan, Pauri, Ang 648
1. Sri Guru Nanak Sahib Ji first met Bhai Lehna (who later became Guru Angad) while Bhai Lehna was riding on horseback on his way to meet Guru Nanak.
2. Sri Guru Angad Sahib Ji regularly rode horses from a young age.
3. Sri Guru Amar Das Sahib Ji would often use a horse to carry out journeys to places like Haridwar. Once, Baba Budha suggested that only a mare, which was one of Guru Amar Das's favourite possessions, could lead the Sikhs to find to their lost Guru (Guru Amar Das). Baba Budha asked the Sikhs to follow the horse. He said that only she could lead them to their Guru. The Sikhs let the mare loose and began following her with Baba Budha for days. Finally, the mare stopped before a small hut in the village of Basarke Gillan.
4. Sri Guru Ram Das Sahib Ji regularly rode horses when travelling to far away places like Ramspur (Amritsar) and Lahore.
5. Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji was an expert horseman, he rode on horseback to the village Mao Sahib where he was due to be married. After arriving in Mao Sahib, all the residents of the village came out to receive the marriage party. They were also very eager to pay homage to the true Guru. The Guru accepted their homage with a smile and blessed them. Then the headman of the village met the group and said, "There is a tradition of this village that before entering the village the bridegroom has to lance out a peg dug in the field with a spear while on horseback."
The villagers were clever enough to encarve the roots of the Banyan tree in the form of a peg. All the members of marriage party were equipped with swords, lances and spears. On Guru Sahib's direction a young man handed over a spear to Guru Arjan. He was already riding a horse. Holding the lancer in his right hand, Guru Arjan rode the horse towards the peg and drew it out on the very first attempt in a single move.
6. Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji created the first Sikh cavalry and fought a number of defensive battles against the mughals. Guru Hargobind had a stable of 800 horses; 300 mounted Sikhs were constantly in attendance upon Guru Sahib, and a guard of fifty-six matchlock-men secured his safety in person. Once Bhai Bidhi Chand recovered the theft of two horses, Dilbag and Gulbag, from the stables of the governor of Lahore that belonged to Guru Hargobind.
7. Sri Guru Har Rai Sahib Ji maintained a Sikh cavalry numbering 2200 and made several tours to the Malwa and Doaba regions of the Punjab.
8. Sri Guru Harkrishan Sahib Ji travelled to Delhi in a horse-carriage.
9. Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur learned archery and horse riding from Baba Budha while his father Guru Hargobind, Master of Miri and Piri, taught him swordsmanship.
10. Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji had a famous blue horse. In fact Guru Sahib is sometimes known as "Neelay ghoray wala" or "one with the blue horse" and many folk songs and vars sing the exploits of "Neelay ghoray they swaar" or "the rider of the blue horse". Just like his grandfather Guru Hargobind Sahib, Guru Gobind Singh instructed his Sikhs to make offerings of arms and horses in readiness for the turbulent times ahead. In anticipation of this, Guru Gobind Singh learnt the art of horsemanship from an early age under the guidance of his maternal uncle, Bhai Kirpal Chand. To this day, the breed of the horse called "Blue Roan" still exists, but not the blue color of the rare horse of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
Many other historic Sikhs, including the families of the Gurus (men and women) also regularly rode horses.
Sikhs seek to build a connection with God, while alive, just as horse riders are required to build a connection with their horses. The following are selected metophorical references to horses in Gurbani;
ਦੇਹ ਪਾਵਉ ਜੀਨੁ ਬੁਝਿ ਚੰਗਾ ਰਾਮ ॥ ਚੜਿ ਲੰਘਾ ਜੀ ਬਿਖਮੁ ਭੁਇਅੰਗਾ ਰਾਮ ॥
Ḏeh Pāva▫o Jīn Bujẖ Cẖanga Rām || Cẖaṛ Langẖā Jī Bikẖam Bẖu▫i▫angā Rām ||
I place the saddle on the body-horse, the saddle of realization of the Good Lord. Riding this horse, I cross over the terrifying world-ocean.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Ram Das, Raag Wadhans, Ang 575
ਕੜੀਆਲੁ ਮੁਖੇ ਗੁਰਿ ਅੰਕਸੁ ਪਾਇਆ ਰਾਮ ॥
Kaṛī▫āl Mukẖe Gur Ankas Pā▫i▫ā Rām ||
The Guru has placed the reins in the mouth of the body-horse.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Ram Das, Raag Wadhans, Ang 576
ਦੇਹ ਘੋੜੀ ਜੀ ਜਿਤੁ ਹਰਿ ਪਾਇਆ ਰਾਮ ॥
Ḏeh Gẖoṛī Jī jiṯ Har Pā▫i▫ā Rām ||
The body is the horse, upon which one rides to God.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Ram Das, Raag Wadhans, Ang 576
ਘੋਰ ਬਿਨਾ ਕੈਸੇ ਅਸਵਾਰ ॥
Gẖor Binā Kaise Asvār ||
Without a horse, how can there be a rider?
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Guru Ram Das, Raag Gond, Ang 872
The Sikh code of conduct, Rehat Maryada, is based on 52 hukams or edicts issued by Guru Gobind Singh in 1708 in Nanded and sent to the Sikhs living in Kabul and Sri Hazur Sahib. The 52 hukamnamas or edicts giving instruction on appropriate behavior were written by order of Guru Gobind Singh and copied down by Baba Raam Singh Koer whose great grandfather was Bhai Baba Buddha.
Guru Gobind Singh affixed his personal seal to the document, a copy of which can be seen at historic Gurdwara Paonta Sahib built on the Yamuna river banks in the town of Paonta Sahib of Sirmaur in Himachal Pradesh about 44 kilometers from Dehradun. These edicts sum up the ideal way of life of the Khalsa and serve as a code of conduct for the Khalsa Panth.
Hukam number 30 - Learn and train in the skills of weaponry and horseriding.
Benefits of Horse Riding
There are many benefits of horse riding. If you're looking for a non-traditional way to strengthen your core, horse riding may be just the exercise you need. Horse riding is a great way to exercise different parts of the body and it can be challenging and calming at the same time.
Core Strength and Body Posture: Horse riding is an isometric exercise, which means it uses specific muscles to stay in certain positions, in this case, keeping balanced on the horse. As a result, postural strength becomes very important in horse riding. As you become a better and stronger horse rider you will notice your body posture improve. You will find it easier to sit upright on the floor with a straight back while in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
Balance and Coordination: Staying balanced becomes more challenging the faster and more quickly the horse moves. Cantering or galloping and jumping, for example, are much more difficult than a simple jog or trot. The rider must develop coordination skills to move the body with the horse in order to help the horse stay balanced. These will also help archery skills.
Muscle Tone and Flexibility: Along with the core muscles, the inner thighs and pelvic muscles get the biggest workout as a rider positions himself or herself. This exercise helps with good overall muscle tone and flexibility.
In fact, muscle strengthening can be as effective as a typical weight-bearing exercise. The arms and shoulders get a work out as well as they have to constantly gently communicate with the horse's mouth, similar to dancing with a partner.
Cardiovascular Exercise: Depending on the type of riding and the speed and agility of the horse, horse riding can require more effort, energy, and cardiovascular capacity.
Sleep: Horse riding exercises you from within, the physical activity results in a very satisfying sleep at the end of the day.
Mental exercise: There are many mental benefits to horse riding. There's a confidence that comes from learning how to handle and interact with this huge animal. You really learn about yourself as you experience time on a horse. As a Sikh you become more fearless.
Additionally, horse riding to be a very relaxing and calming experience. Horse riding grounds you. It takes you away from any other worries or issues because, for the time being, the only focus is on riding and staying on the horse. While horse riding is a great exercise, the real benefit you get is the connection with the horse and the peace of mind that comes with every ride.
Stable strength: Riding is not the only way this activity gives the body a workout. Working in a barn and taking care of a horse strengthens muscles and increases cardiovascular capacity.
Lifting 50-pound bags of feed, hauling hay, shovelling and leading horses in and out of the barn are all part of daily care at a barn. These are not light tasks and require a fair amount of strength and endurance.
Note: Horse riding is a dangerous sport and you participate at your own risk. If you fall off a horse, it can hurt! Riding, working with horses and handling horses can be unsafe and horses may be unpredictable. If you want to learn horse riding seek experienced and professional help, do not try and ride unfinished or 'green' horses, particularly in Punjab.