Paris Olympics: Who is Anush Agarwalla, India’s historic entry in dressage?

You can’t whip the horse and get good results, says country’s first Asian Games medallist in the sport

Anush Agarwalla is the first Indian to have qualified in a dressage event (photo: SAI)
Anush Agarwalla is the first Indian to have qualified in a dressage event (photo: SAI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

When Anush Agarwalla, the 24-year-old from Kolkata leads out his horse Sir Caramello Old in the dressage event of the Paris Olympics – it will be a significant ‘first’ in the history of equestrianism in India. In a sport considered the preserve of those in military services or the uber-rich in the country, Anush is the first Indian to have qualified in a dressage event.

It was during the Hangzhou Asian Games in 2023 when Anush, who had been training in Germany since he was 17, grabbed the spotlight by winning the first individual medal in the sport for India with a bronze and then being a member of the gold medallist team. He followed up the good work when in January-February, Anush came up with a series of consistent performances in four FEI events to earn a qualifying spot to strut his stuff at the Château de Versailles in Paris in a few months.

 There is a small technicality before the well-spoken athlete, a brand ambassador for the Fit India Champions movement, can be formally considered as India’s official entry. Since his performance had won the quota for the country and not as an individual, Anush will have to wait until June 24 when the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) nominates the name of the rider to represent the country in the Summer Games. Two other dressage riders – Shruti Vohra and Major Jolly Ahluwalia – are in the fray too but if form and experience are contributing factors, there is no need to look beyond Anush.   

Anush Agarwalla at the Fit India Champions
Anush Agarwalla at the Fit India Champions
(photo: SAI)

“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 Olympics has been a tremendous experience. At every step, my relationship with the horse has been special, almost perfect. The circle will be completed only when I can finish on the podium in my favourite city, Paris,” he said at the Fit India Champions Podcast recently.

The journey had not been an easy one on Anush’s part as despite hailing from a privileged background, he had to make enough sacrifices for the tough choice he made. Ever since he turned 17, he had been living and training in Borchen, Germany under coach  Hubertus Schmidt – spending less than two weeks at home every Christmas.

Anush credits his family and coach 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,” a candid Anush told the podcast, adding that Schmidt’s patience levels with him were amazing.

How much of the credit should go to the rider and the horse’s athleticism in equestrianism? In Anush’s words, it’s the bonding with the horse which is critical to good results. ‘’The best of horses can get nervous and flustered like human beings do ahead of big events and crowds. 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 the mental and physical health of the rider and his animal have to match perfectly. You can’t whip the horse and get good results,’’ he explained.

 In dressage competitions, the horse and rider perform a series of predetermined movements in a vean arena bordered by a low rail. The horse must stay within the area while performing. 

 It’s in the eventing competition where seven Indian athletes have participated in the Summer Games before. Fouaad Mirza represented India in equestrian (eventing) at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics while the other participants were Imtiaaz Anees (Sydney 2000), Indrajit Lamba (Atlanta 1996), Jitendrajit Singh Ahluwalia, Hussain Singh, Mohammed Khan and Darya Singh (all Moscow 1980).

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