Pakistan’s Olympic-bound horse Azad Kashmir passes away from heart attack

Abdul Mohi ShahAlam Zeb Safi

Pakistan's Olympic-bound equestrian Usman Khan's family has announced that his horse Azad Kashmir has passed away.

“With great sadness we announce the sudden passing of Pakistan’s steed Azad Kashmir. Azad suffered a severe heart attack (aortic aneurysm) on Thursday morning in Melbourne,” the family said.

Later in a message sent to this correspondent, Usman said he could not gather himself at this point in time. “I have buried the horse with an Olympic flag. I am in a state of shock.”

Death of Azad means Usman will have to make a fresh effort to qualify for the Olympics. In equestrian, it is the horse that shares the equal honour of qualification. Now Usman will have to find a new horse to qualify for the Olympics — a task that looks increasingly difficult.

Azad represented Pakistan and Australia at the highest level. The strong bond between Azad and Usman led to Pakistan’s first Olympic qualification.

“Usman’s fifteen-year struggle cannot be described in words. The duo achieved the distinction against all odds. It is indeed a sad news,” a handout issued by the family said.

“We are devastated. We don’t have a back up horse,” Usman said. “Azad Kashmir . . . brought Pakistan honour and respect,” he added.

“Honestly, financial loss becomes insignificant when compared to the bigger picture. Pakistan voyage to Olympics with Azad Kashmir — an epic journey,” he said.

“FEI does allow a provision to secure another horse and start again.

“Someone has to fund. Only if someone sees the bigger picture. This has never been about Usman, this is about Pakistan reaching the Olympics. I have lost a teammate.

“Azad and I fulfilled our promise, we qualified, we delivered. We did more than that. The world wasn’t ready for us in July 2020. Azad Kashmir was ready. He was laid to rest as an Olympian and I am proud of my friend,” he said.

Usman last year became the first equestrian in Pakistan’s history to make it to the Olympics through Azad Kashmir, a speedy and efficient horse.

Usman said he had spent $215,000 (Rs26 million) in 2019 and $50,000 (Rs6 million) in 2020 to prepare for the Olympics. He said that he had spent at least $3.2 million in last 15 years to fulfil his ambition.

Usman is to represent Pakistan in eventing in Tokyo Olympics.

At the Wallaby Hill in December 2019, Usman and his horse Azad Kashmir did well to complete the CCI4*-L, finishing 13th and that was enough to earn them Minimum Eligibility Requirements (MER) and achieve Tokyo 2020 qualification.

In qualifiers in September 2019, Usman ended 15th.

In October 2019 at the Lynton Horse Trials in Goulburn, the organising committee had agreed to run a CCI3*-L specifically for Usman and Azad Kashmir so that they could try and achieve an MER at this level, enabling them to compete at Wallaby Hill CCI4*-L.

Usman, son of a retired Army Major, achieved the FEI revised qualification for next year’s Tokyo Olympics a few days ago.

Pakistan’s Olympic-bound horse Azad Kashmir passes away from heart attack