Dressage glory: Steadfast Anush Agarwalla gears up for Paris ride - Hindustan Times

Dressage glory: Steadfast Anush Agarwalla gears up for Paris ride

By, New Delhi
Feb 21, 2024 09:21 AM IST

The 25-year-old can still be challenged by other rider-horse combinations till the June 24 deadline but for now, he is one step close to achieving his dream

Anush Agarwalla is over the moon. His childhood dream of qualifying for the Olympics realised, the 25-year-old from Kolkata is gearing up for "something special" in Paris. On Monday, he became the first Indian to earn an Olympics berth in dressage for the country.

On Monday, Anush Agarwalla became the first Indian to earn an Olympics berth in dressage for the country.(PTI)
On Monday, Anush Agarwalla became the first Indian to earn an Olympics berth in dressage for the country.(PTI)

Like most sports, an Olympic quota in equestrian belongs to the country and not the individual, meaning Agarwalla can still be challenged by other rider-horse combinations till the June 24 deadline to send final entries. But for now, he is one step closer to achieving his dream.

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"Being an Olympian was always a childhood dream. I have been waiting for this moment since I started training in the right earnest," Agarwalla said from his training base in Borchen, Germany.

In dressage, the rider-horse combination performs in an arena of 20m x 60m, bordered by a low rail which the horse must stay within. The horse and rider show the paces — walk, trot and canter — and are judged on the smoothness in transitioning. The event is competed across seven stages — preliminary, elementary, medium, advanced medium, advanced, Prix St George and Intermediate I — and the scoring is done on scale of 1 to 10.

"I can't wait to get to Paris. I have not set any targets in terms of scores. That's not the way I approach competitions. My goal is to get better and give my best, and if I am able to give my best, it'll be a special result. Let's see where this journey takes me."

The journey has already taken Agarwalla where no Indian has ventured before.

It all began over a decade and a half back when Agarwalla was enrolled at Kolkata's Tollygunge Club at the age of eight. Three years on, he was making weekend trips to New Delhi to train. In 2017, he moved to Germany to hone his skills under the tutelage of 2004 Olympic champion Hubertus Schmidt.

"The Olympic dream germinated there. There were times when a lot of people doubted me. At one point, even I started doubting myself, but somehow, I persisted. All my years of loneliness and toil have finally been rewarded," he recalled.

The trials don't worry him too much.

"I did what I could. I am confident that I will be selected to represent India at the Olympics," he said. "I am certain the federation will not conduct the final selection in India because of the logistics involved in transporting horses. Most Indian riders who want to compete in Paris are based in Europe anyway, so I am sure the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) will be mindful of that."

EFI Secretary General Colonel Jaiveer Singh confirmed that, "The horse-rider combination will participate in FEI dressage competitions in Europe of same technical standards as that of Olympic games. This will enable EFI to select the combination with the best scores at the prestigious tournament."

Agarwalla was allotted the quota on the basis of his performance in four FEI events — Wroclaw (73.485%), Kronenberg (74.4%), Frankfurt (72.9%), and Mechelen (74.2%).

After a successful Asian Games where he was part of the team that won gold and clinched an individual bronze too, Agarwalla made a quick trip to India for a meet and greet with the Prime Minister and flew back to Germany after four days.

"My qualifying events were scheduled after the Asian Games, so there was little time to rest," he said. His mount Etro, who was his companion in Hangzhou, was given a break and Agarwalla began to train with Sir Caramello Old. The 17-year-old Oldenburger — a German warmblood Gelding — and Agarwalla go back five years. It was on Sir Caramello that Agarwalla competed at the World Championships in 2022.

"I share a very special bond with Sir Caramello. We share a wonderful understanding and having been at the World Championships, he knows how to handle pressure. He has given me a lot of wonderful firsts. I have done some of my best shows with him," he said.

Etro, the nine-year-old stallion, and Flovinos Feiner Kerl, an 18-year-old westphalia hanoverian breed, are the other two horses that Agarwalla grooms but both are yet to catch up with Sir Caramello.

"While I share excellent understanding with the other two horses, their level, as of now, is only of the Intermediate I or Intermediate I Freestyle to Music. Sir Caramello, on the other hand is a Grand Prix level horse which is what you need at the Olympics. Basically, the difference between the levels is like first class cricket and Test cricket," Agarwalla explained.

"Sir Caramello is 17, which is not exactly young but his experience comes in really handy. All his best results have come over the past 2-3 years which shows he is in prime condition. Etro is a very promising horse and one for the future. At his age, I can't overburden him with excessive training."

The pressure of Paris qualification out of the way, Agarwalla and Schmidt can now plan the season at ease. Next on the agenda is CDI Aachen event in Germany in March followed by CDI Hagen in April, CDI Munchen-Rhiem in May and another CDI Aachen in July. "We have enough time to work on our tactics and strategies. Training a horse takes time, and luckily, we have enough time for that," he said.

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    Shantanu Srivastava is an experienced sports journalist who has worked across print and digital media. He covers cricket and Olympic sports.

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