Interview with Anush Agarwalla: India’s Emerging International Equestrian Star

Anush Agarwalla

An exclusive interview with Anush Agarwalla: India’s Emerging International Equestrian Star

In the world of equestrian sports, where grace, skill, and an unbreakable bond between rider and horse are paramount, one name stands out as India’s emerging international equestrian star: Anush Agarwalla.

Hailing from a nation with a rich cultural heritage but relatively nascent equestrian traditions, Anush has defied the odds and soared to prominence on the global stage. With a passion for horses that knows no bounds and a remarkable dedication to her craft, she has not only made a name for herself but is also inspiring a new generation of equestrian enthusiasts in India.

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the world of Anush Agarwalla, her journey, her aspirations, and the challenges she’s overcome on her path to becoming a shining beacon for Indian equestrian excellence.

Can you share with us your journey into the world of equestrian sports? How did you discover your passion for horse riding, and what motivated you to pursue it at an international level?

Anush Agarwalla: I would say that my journey into equestrian sports has not been the typical journey of the majority of the equestrians, especially in Europe. I come from a non-horse family, so I was introduced into the sport at a relatively age, especially in comparison to most of the equestrians in Europe.

Coming from Kolkata, there is a Golf Club called the Tollygunge Club, not too far away from my home which also had a riding facility. My parents used to take me there on the weekends since the age of 3, where I would sit on ponies and go for a walk around the forest.

I had to wait until the age of 8 or 9, until I was eligible to enroll myself for riding lessons. At the age of 11, I started going to New Delhi every weekend from Friday to Sunday so that I could ride horses, while during the week I continued by schooling in my hometown.

At the age of 16, after finishing my Class 10 examinations, I decided to shift to Delhi to undertake riding more seriously, but I soon realised that I was nowhere compared to the level where I wanted to be.

Seeing no chances of improvement, at the age of 17, together with the support of my family, I decided to move to Germany and train with my coach Mr. Hubertus Schmidt in order to pursue my equestrian dreams more seriously.

I always enjoyed spending time in the company of horses since the very beginning. While I was training in New Delhi, I used to watch videos of the biggest competitions such as the Olympic Games etc and watch how happy the riders were after finishing their tests and how everyone stood in respect and started clapping for the horse and rider, while the rider patted the horse.

This really gave me goosebumps and motivated me to work hard enough to enjoy a special moment like that and hopefully inspire others in the future. This motivated me to make the bold move of shifting to Germany and taking up this sport more seriously.

Equestrian sports require a strong bond between rider and horse. Could you describe the connection you share with your horses and how it contributes to your success in competitions?

Anush Agarwalla: I think the connection between the horse and it’s rider, is one of the most, if not the most essential part of the sport. I read a quote somewhere saying “There’s no greater secret than between that of a horse and its rider” and this perfectly sums up the question.

Developing a bond with a horse usually takes a long time and once made, lasts forever. This is what makes this so special. Personally, it is very important for me to develop a strong bond with my horses, not only while riding, but also in spending time with them, while doing other activities.

I feel that horses can only give their best under the saddle, when they feel comfortable and can blindly trust their riders. Only then is the horse-rider combination truly in sync and that’s what distinguishes the best from the rest.

Representing India as an emerging equestrian star on the international stage is a remarkable achievement. How do you balance the pride of representing your country with the pressure of competing at such high levels?

Anush Agarwalla: I would be lying, if I said that the pressure doesn’t get to me sometimes. To be honest, I love feeling the pressure and being nervous in a positive manner before a competition, especially before an event like the Asian Games.

There’s a very famous saying that goes “Diamonds are formed under pressure” and I think this perfectly sums up by answer. Whenever I sit in the saddle, at home or at a competition, I feel that there is a responsibility that I have to take care of- a responsibility towards my family, my coach, my friends, my teammates, my country and all those who supported me in my journey to give my 100%, no matter what.

Leading up to the games, I am very excited and positively nervous, and that’s exactly the state of mind I want to be in. I feel good about my training, my horse and I am grateful to be a part of this journey. Thinking about the coming weeks gives me goosebumps.

Equestrian events encompass various disciplines. Could you tell us about your favourite discipline and the unique challenges and joys it brings to your equestrian journey?

Anush Agarwalla: Dressage is clearly my favourite discipline. The most beautiful part about dressage is that it truly displays harmony between a horse and it’s rider. The goal of dressage is to make it look easy, it should rather appear that the rider isn’t doing anything on the horse.

When this is achieved, then the true goal of dressage has been met. Dressage may seem rather ‘boring’ to someone who doesn’t understand the technicalities of the sport, but in my opinion that’s the most exciting part about it.

My journey in dressage has been full of ups and downs, full of victories and defeats. It has taught me the importance of hard work, dedication, perseverance and consistency, the joy of victories and most importantly the grace in defeat.

I, personally, have always been someone who hates to lose and it is very difficult for me to accept losses. My journey in the sport of dressage has played a huge role in shaping the person I am today and I am proud of it.

Equestrian sports often require immense dedication and perseverance. Can you share a particularly challenging moment in your career and how you overcame it to achieve success?

Anush Agarwalla: Personally, the most challenging moment of my career till date was between October, 2019 and December, 2020. At the end of 2019, I realised that my dreams of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games were crushed and there was no possibility of me qualifying.

This was a very difficult truth for me to accept. At the same time, I had gotten a new horse, Sir Caramello OLD (on whom in 2022, I became the first Indian to qualify for the World Championships in dressage), and everything didn’t work out as planned.

Early 2020 marked the beginning of the  COVID pandemic and I couldn’t visit my family and friends for the whole year, making everything even more difficult. I was depressed for months, as my difficulties with Sir Caramello grew, and I started blaming everything on my surroundings and on others, rather than myself. I had numerous consecutive competitions, where my performance was extremely poor.

This was one of the toughest moments of my career until this day. These problems continued until one day I realised the mistakes I was making by blaming everything else and not working on improving myself. I decided that no matter what happened, I would wake up every day positively, give my 100% while training, accept everything with a smile and most importantly, learn each day.

I followed this consistently and soon noticed a remarkable improvement in my riding. That’s when I realised the importance and beauty of hard work and dedication.

The equestrian community is known for its tight-knit nature.
How have mentorship and guidance from experienced equestrians or coaches shaped your development as a rider?

Anush Agarwalla: My greatest and most important mentor, not only as a rider but also in life, has been my coach, Mr. Hubertus Schmidt. He is practically a legend of the sport, having won gold medals at Olympic Games (2004) and World Championships (2006).

He has guided me very sincerely every step of the way for the past years and I am grateful for the opportunity to have him as my trainer. He took me an as a 17 year old boy, who practically knew nothing about the sport, and has played the most important role in my achievements in the past and in the years to come.

He has been my hardest but also dearest mentor. Without him, none of this would be possible. He has taught me a lot about life in general, how to always treat others with respect and most importantly- the importance of hard work and perseverance.

Away from the arena, what are some of your hobbies or interests that help you unwind and recharge your energy for both sport and life in general?

Anush Agarwalla: I do not get much free time between riding and university ( I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Economics), but in the little time I do get, I ,like spending it in the company of my friends going out for dinners, movies etc. I also enjoy playing esports, travelling, swimming, going for walks etc.

Many young athletes look up to you as a role model. What advice would you give to aspiring equestrians who dream of making their mark in international competitions?

Anush Agarwalla: My advice to anyone trying to make their mark in the equestrian sport is that hard work always pays off. With passion, hard work, perseverance, and consistency the sky is the limit. Coming from India, it is difficult to make it big in equestrian, due to the lack of facilities and opportunities in India.

If one aspires to represent the country at major championships, he/ she must move abroad for training purposes. This comes with a lot of sacrifices and is a journey full of ups and downs and loneliness. But in the end its always worth it.

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