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Paris Olympics: Anush Agarwalla Must Finish On Podium To ‘Complete Circle’

Having clinched India’s first-ever dressage quota at the Olympics, 24-year-old Anush Agarwalla has his eyes on the prize at Paris 2024. The Hangzhou Asian Games medallist talks about the surreal feeling of achieving the unprecedented at the Fit India Champions podcast

Indian equestrian Anush Agarwalla (left) at the Fit India Champions Podcast alongside host Ekta Vishnoi. Photo: SAI

There is no horsing around for Anush Agarwalla, when it comes to representing the nation. Come the Paris Games in July-August, the 24-year-old is expected to become the first Indian ever to compete in the dressage event of equestrianism at the Olympics, and the youngster is well aware of the staggering responsibility on his shoulders. (More Sports News)

For now, he’s just soaking it all in. “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.

"At every step, the relationship with my horse has been special, almost perfect. The circle will be completed only when I can finish on the podium in my favourite city, Paris,” Agarwalla told host Ekta Vishnoi in the latest episode of the Fit India Champions Podcast.

Horses have played a crucial role in nearly every chapter of India’s rich history. In the Mahabharata, Arjun’s chariot was drawn by four white horses. At the Chateau de Versailles in Paris, Agarwalla will be India’s proverbial ‘Arjun’ astride Sir Caramello, the horse that enabled him win a historic dressage quota for Paris 2024.

Agarwalla is no stranger to firsts. Born in a business family where no one played sport, Anush has been living and training in Borchen, Germany ever since he turned 17. He gets to spend less than two weeks at home in Kolkata in December-January every year, which signified the kind of sacrifices he has made en route clinching two historic medals – a team gold and a bronze – on his Asian Games debut last year.

The athlete 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, adding that Schmidt’s patience levels were “amazing”. Interestingly, it was Agarwalla’s Sriram School Aravalli accounts teacher Adarsh, who ‘discovered’ Schmidt on the internet.

The lad from Kolkata pointed out that “bonding with the horse was critical to good results.” The best of horses can get flustered, akin to human beings, ahead of major events, Agarwalla added. His six to seven hours of training time every day include a big chunk 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 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.

“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.”

As the quota is won for the country, Agarwalla will have to wait until June 24, when the Equestrian Federation of India will send the name of the rider who will represent the country at Paris 2024. Two dressage riders – Shruti Vohra and Major Jolly Ahluwalia – are contenders for Paris too, but considering form and experience, Agarwalla appears to be the frontrunner.

A flagship programme of the ministry of youth affairs and sports, the Fit India Mission is an endeavour to spread the virtues of physical and mental wellness. The ‘Fit India Champions’ podcast series is aimed at spreading the good words through conversations with athletes and health influencers who are acting as catalysts for change.