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'It's Been Just Surreal'- Anush Agarwalla on becoming India's first Olympic dressage qualifier

Published at :April 15, 2024 at 12:56 AM
Modified at :April 15, 2024 at 12:56 AM
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(Courtesy : Telegraph India)

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24-year-old became the first Indian to clinch dressage quota for the Olympics.

The only current Olympic event that involves an animal is equestrianism. In ancient Olympics, chariot races and horse racing used to be part of the program. Horses continue to remain in focus and this year at the Paris Olympics in July-August, an Indian will represent the nation in the dressage event for the first time ever.

The 24-year-old Anush Agarwalla will carry the hopes of a billion when he straddles an equine at the Château de Versailles in Paris. Horses are entwined in almost every chapter of India’s rich history. In Mahabharata, Arjun’s chariot was drawn by four white horses. In Paris, Agarwalla will be India’s proverbial ‘Arjun’ astride Sir Caramello, the horse that enabled him to win a historic dressage quota for Paris 2024.

“It’s been just surreal. From winning India’s first medals at the Hangzhou Asian Games to becoming the first Indian to clinch a dressage quota for the upcoming Olympics has been a tremendous experience. The relationship with my horse has been special at every step, almost perfect. The circle will be completed only when I can finish on the podium in my favorite city, Paris,” said Anush Agarwalla during a chat with Shrimati Ekta Vishnoi, the host of the Fit India Champions Podcast.

The ‘Fit India Champions’ podcast series is aimed at spreading the message on wellness through conversations with athletes and health influencers. The 10-episode series is in partnership with GOQii, a major stakeholder in the fitness sector that proactively manages health through its digital and multimedia technology.

Agarwalla’s career has been a story of sacrifices. Born in a business family where no one played sport, Agarwalla has been living and training in Borchen, Germany ever since he turned 17. With less than two weeks at home in Kolkata in December-January every year, it has been a lot of hard work for Agarwalla, who secured two historic medals – a team gold and a bronze – on his Asian Games debut last year.

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Agarwalla credits his family and coach Hubertus Schmidt for his journey as an equestrian so far. Schmidt, a 2004 Olympics gold medallist and a 2005 European champion, has “been entirely responsible for transforming me from a low-level rookie to my current position,” said Agarwalla, who added that Schmidt’s patience levels were “amazing”. Interestingly, Schmidt was ‘discovered’ by Agarwalla’s Sriram School Aravalli accounts teacher Adarsh through the internet!

Anush Agarwalla emphasized that “bonding with the horse was critical to good results.” The best of horses can get nervous and flustered like human beings do ahead of big events and crowds, said Agarwalla, whose six to seven hours of training time every day included a big portion on “looking after the horse and building trust.”

“The trust level with your horse has to be immaculate. Bonding is key and I have been lucky both in Hangzhou and when I got the Olympic quota because both mental and physical health of the rider and his animal have to match perfectly. You can’t whip the horse and get good results.

“Bonding, like human relationships, happens over time and these are like secret affairs really,” said Agarwalla, who has gone back to Sir Caramello, the horse he had bought five years ago to qualify for Tokyo Olympics but missed by a whisker. In Hangzhou, Agarwalla was atop Etro, who now “needs a break after doing all the hard work in the Asian Games.”

Since the quota is won for the country, Agarwalla will have to wait until June 24 when the Equestrian Federation of India sends the name of the rider who will represent the country in the Summer Games. Two dressage riders – Shruti Vohra and Major Jolly Ahluwalia – are contenders for Paris too but if form and experience are contributing factors, Anush Agarwalla looks like a frontrunner. 

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