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President honors first woman in equestrian sports with India’s prestigious Arjuna Award

Living alone in a new country with only my horse by my side taught me much about resilience and companionship. I learned that horses are not just animals; they are sentient beings capable of understanding emotions. My horse and I share a profound connection; we understand each other’s temperaments.

  • 1 month ago
  • June 20, 2024
8 min read
Divyakriti Singh Rathore of Rajasthan, India, received the prestigious Arjuna Award from President Droupadi Murmu for her outstanding achievements in equestrian sports. | Photo courtesy of Divyakriti Singh Rathore Divyakriti Singh Rathore of Rajasthan, India, received the prestigious Arjuna Award from President Droupadi Murmu for her outstanding achievements in equestrian sports. | Photo courtesy of Divyakriti Singh Rathore
Divyakriti Singh Rathore of Rajasthan, India, received the prestigious Arjuna Award from President Droupadi Murmu for her outstanding achievements in equestrian sport.
JOURNALIST’S NOTES
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Divyakriti Singh Rathore of Rajasthan, India, received the prestigious Arjuna Award from President Droupadi Murmu for her outstanding achievements in equestrian sports. She is ranked No. 1 in Asia and No. 14 globally in the Global Dressage Rankings by the International Equestrian Federation. Additionally, Divyakriti won a gold medal in the team dressage event at last year’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. This victory marked the first time in 41 years that India secured a gold medal in equestrian sports at the Asian Games.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Divyakriti Singh’s exceptional dedication and skill in equestrian sports were recognized when she became the first female equestrian to be honored with the Arjuna Award, India’s second-highest sporting accolade. Her significant contribution to the sport was highlighted by her instrumental role in winning the Gold Medal for the Indian Dressage team at the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, last September. This historic achievement not only marked a personal milestone for Divyakriti but also brought her journey in the equestrian world to new heights, as acknowledged by the prestigious award.

JAIPUR, India — As I stood atop the podium at the Asian Games 2023 in China, my teammates and compatriots stood beside me. The Indian national anthem filled the air, and our national flag waved proudly above us. It was a historic moment as we claimed the gold medal in the team equestrian competition—the first in four decades.

When I returned home after three years, heeding my family’s persistent calls, I learned of another remarkable achievement. The President of India selected me for the prestigious Arjuna Award [the second-highest sporting honor of India], filling us with overwhelming joy and pride. Not only did I achieve a personal triumph, but I also became the first Indian woman to receive the Arjuna Award in equestrian sports.

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Generations of horse enthusiasm: A family legacy rooted in equestrian passion 

Born into a family that cherishes horses, I connected with these majestic creatures before I can remember. Both my maternal and paternal grandfathers served in the Indian Army. My father, Vikram Singh Rathore, shares a passion for horses, particularly in polo. We house around 80 horses in our family stable. We also maintain polo grounds, where my father’s team competes in various championships.

I first climbed into a saddle on the vast grounds of the 450-year-old Mundota Palace, our ancestral home near Jaipur. This experience shaped the course of my life. Later, while attending Mayo College Girls’ School, a boarding institution for children from royal families, I found solace in riding horses. It served as a curricular activity amidst my homesickness.

Riding became more than just a pastime; it served as an escape. It was also a way to reconnect with my parents during different championships. My affection for horses deepened over time. I soon transitioned from a schoolgirl rider to an athlete representing India on the global stage. 

I started my journey in equestrian sports by winning my first medal in dressage at the Delhi Horse Show, riding a horse named Chetak. Dressage, often compared to “ballet with a horse,” requires executing a series of complex, memorized movements set to music over six to seven minutes. That victory marked the beginning of my illustrious career, where I overcame challenges and reached milestones previously unattained in Indian equestrian history.

After failing to qualify for the Asian Games in university, woman moved to Denmark for intensive training

During my school and college days, I partnered with horses at every championship. I competed in several international competitions across Europe including France, Austria, Belgium, Germany, and Florida in the U.S. Despite these experiences, I failed to qualify for the Asian Games in my final year of university in India. This setback disheartened me but taught me valuable lessons in focus and patience. I learned more from the championships at which I failed than from those I won.

Ahead of a championship, challenges with my horse always arise, such as sickness, moodiness, or an injury. Failing to qualify for the Asian Games hit me hard, so I decided to move to Denmark in 2020 for further training. There, I acquired my first Danish Warmblood horse, Storm. The saying, “If you have gained the trust of a horse, you have won a friend for life,” resonates deeply with me. I deepened my bond with Storm during the COVID-19 Pandemic when lockdowns isolated me in Denmark, preventing my return home.

Living alone in a new country with only my horse by my side taught me much about resilience and companionship. I learned that horses are not just animals; they are sentient beings capable of understanding emotions. My horse and I share a profound connection; we understand each other’s temperaments. I can sense when Storm does not want to practice or needs to be pushed further during training. Because of this bond, I do not seek any formal or informal connections with people. Instead, I remain mostly consumed with my horse.

Asian Games 2023: woman becomes India’s first female equestrian to receive Arjuna Award

Since 2022, I trained at the world’s leading dressage school, Hof Kasselmann in Hagen, Germany. I strategically chose to move here to compete in the Asian Games 2023. The school, renowned for training many European champions, offers various levels of competition. These include Prix St-Georges for international show arenas such as the Asian Games, and Grand Prix for the Olympics.

Despite feeling homesick, I had not visited India since 2020, as my focus remained on training. Finally, after my family’s persistent requests, I went back to my hometown for three days. During this time, I received an email informing me of my selection for the prestigious Arjuna Award from the President of India. The moment I shared this news with my family felt surreal. It is an honor and a distinction to be the first woman to receive the Arjuna Award for equestrian sports.

Divyakriti, ranked No. 1 in Asia and No. 14 globally in dressage, won gold in the team dressage event at last year’s Asian Games in Hangzhou, China | Photo courtesy of Divyakriti Singh Rathore

The victory at the Asian Games 2023 still gives me goosebumps. The uncertainty of winning until the last minute felt exhilarating. My fellow teammates, all under 25 and trained in Europe like me, share great camaraderie. My family, trainers, and horses witnessed our victory at the Asian Games stadium, followed by the ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhawan (President’s House). Meeting other athletes at the President’s House sparked inspiration in me, as their stories of perseverance felt truly motivating.

Our triumph in equestrianism thrust the sport into the spotlight, garnering extensive media coverage. This ignited a newfound interest in dressage among the populace, a term previously unfamiliar to many. Messages and calls flooded my phone, and a dairy brand in India even created an iconic advertisement featuring us.

This experience fills me with gratitude for the overwhelming support, especially from my horse, who fought alongside me that day. While I enjoy the attention from my newfound fame and achievements, I keep sharpening my skills for future competitions.

Equestrian achievements: medals, awards, and a life revolving around horses in Germany 

In 2023, I achieved the height of my equestrian career, winning three medals at the Saudi Equestrian Federation Cup in Riyadh and the Asian Games, and receiving the prestigious Arjuna Award. These accomplishments not only honored me but also reminded me of the responsibility to excel further in my sport.

I began my journey in equestrian sports at my school, so returning there as the chief guest for the horse show felt like coming full circle. As the first woman in equestrian sports to receive the Arjuna Award, I feel determined to ensure I do not become the last.

For the past two years, I have lived in Germany at Hof Kasselmann, located in the serene Ruhr area of North Rhine-Westphalia. Here, I center my life around horses. I ride, clean, muck out stalls, prepare the boxes, and manage the fields seven days a week. Despite not having a groom as I did in India, taking care of every task for my horse has immensely strengthened our bond. Equestrians, including Olympic gold medalists, perform these tasks to demonstrate their dedication.

In 2023, Divyakriti won three medals, including those at the Saudi Equestrian Federation Cup in Riyadh, the Asian Games, and the prestigious Arjuna Award. | Photo courtesy of Divyakriti Singh Rathore

Living away from my family in Germany presents challenges, but every victory demonstrates their support and pride in my achievements. My coach, Insa Hansen, a former champion and Grand Prix rider who accompanied me to the Asian Games, played an integral part in my journey here. Together with my three horses, we have crafted a life dedicated to achieving excellence in dressage.

As I continue to train without breaks, I constantly reflect on the stark differences between my life and that of others my age. My friends often struggle to relate to my world, which revolves around equestrian pursuits. However, I consider this singular focus a small price for the joy and fulfillment it brings me.

Pursuing Olympic dreams amid financial challenges 

Despite my numerous achievements, I do spend moments away from training. Although my coach insists on taking breaks, I continue to figure out what else I want to do. Early in the morning, I begin my day by feeding and letting out the horses. I live simply in my small apartment at the school, which is within walking distance of the stables. My attire consists of riding britches, a blazer, a hat, and gloves. After receiving the prestigious Arjuna Award and wearing a sari for the ceremony, I developed a love for wearing saris when I was in India.

The path ahead poses challenges and opportunities. Training at an elite dressage school and caring for my three horses incur high costs. Some of these horses carry price tags of several million euros each, with a typical Olympic competitor valued at about one million euros. My family currently finances my pursuits, but equestrian sports demand sponsorship due to the high expenses.

Our wins have raised awareness, so I anticipate receiving more support from sponsors in India. Focused on the 2026 Olympics, I am currently training for the upcoming competition in Saudi Arabia and other championships over the next two years. The journey remains long and demanding, but I embrace everything that comes with open arms.

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