Dressage is a sport that has been refined over centuries and has evolved into a true art form. It involves the intricate coordination between horse and rider to perform a series of precise movements that demonstrate the highest level of training and discipline. As an equestrian sport defined by the International Equestrian Federation, dressage is described as “the highest expression of horse training” where “horse and rider are expected to perform from memory a series of predetermined movements.”
As per the newly issued world rankings of Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), Jaipur’s Divyakriti Singh ranks 1st in Asia and 14th in the world in the Dressage discipline of equestrian games. Furthermore, she also made it to the list of probable for the 19th Asian Games, slated to be held from 23 September to 8 October 2023, in the Dressage discipline. What’s noteworthy is that she is the only woman athlete from Rajasthan to make it to the list of probables in the equestrian discipline for the 19th Asian Games. We caught up with her to know more about her journey. Below are some excerpts from the conversation:
Tell us about your journey in the equestrian sport and how you became interested in dressage?
My passion for equestrian sports began during my time at Mayo College Girls’ School in Ajmer. In seventh grade, all students were required to participate in a sport and I chose riding. As I spent more time around horses, my appreciation for their beauty, grace, and intelligence only deepened. I continued to ride and compete throughout my school years, participating in numerous Junior and Senior national championships and steadily advancing through the levels. Looking back on those formative years, I cherish the memories of my time spent in the saddle, and am grateful for the foundation in equestrianism that Mayo College Girls’ School provided me.
How do you feel about being a trailblazer and inspiring others in your community?
I am thrilled to be the only woman from Rajasthan to have made it onto the probables list for the 19th Asian Games Indian team for equestrian sports. However, my ultimate goal is to use this platform to inspire other women to pursue equestrian sports professionally. In 2014, an all-women team represented India for the first time, but there has been a gap since then. With the abundance of talent and potential in our country, especially in Rajasthan, I firmly believe that with the right training and support, we can see many more girls and boys excel at the international level in the coming years. It is my dream to create a pathway for young equestrians to follow and to pave the way for greater representation of women in this exhilarating and rewarding sport.
What challenges have you faced as a female athlete in this sport and how have you overcome them?
Equestrianism is a rare sport where men and women compete on a level playing field, making it truly empowering for female athletes. From local competitions to the Olympics, women have consistently demonstrated their excellence in the sport, often surpassing their male counterparts. While every athlete faces their own set of challenges, I do not view my gender as a hindrance in my equestrian journey. Though I have faced my fair share of setbacks and difficulties, I am determined to continue pushing myself and achieving my goals.
How do you prepare for competitions, both mentally and physically?
The preparation for equestrian competitions is a highly detailed and individualistic process. As an athlete in this sport, my teammate is a horse, and the key to a successful competition lies in the seamless partnership between the horse and rider. Achieving this level of harmony takes countless hours of practice, both in the saddle and outside of it. Every horse has a unique personality and requires a different approach to training, so it’s essential to have a deep understanding of your horse’s individual needs and preferences.
Personally, I have developed a close relationship with my horses over time. I have spent countless hours caring for them and getting to know them on a personal level. This bond is built on trust, and it’s what enables us to work together as a team in competitions.
Leading up to a competition, we follow a rigorous training schedule for two weeks to ensure that we are well-prepared, without over-exerting ourselves too soon. This involves a variety of structured exercises, with support from a team of experts including trainers, farriers, physiotherapists, and veterinarians. Mental preparation is also critical in this sport, and as riders, we must maintain a calm and confident mindset to guide our horses through any situation.
Despite our best efforts, failures are inevitable in this sport. I have experienced my share of setbacks and disappointments along the way. However, I believe that resilience and mental toughness are essential qualities for any athlete. Through mental training and practices like Sudarshan Kriya and meditation, I have learned to cultivate a never-give-up attitude that has helped me persevere through tough times and emerge stronger on the other side.
Can you walk us through your training regimen and how you stay in top shape for your competitions?
In the equestrian sport, every day is a new challenge, but having a dedicated team of experienced trainers and coaches makes all the difference. My team works together to create a tailored training regimen that meets both mine and my horses’ needs, ensuring that we are able to perform at our best.
Starting early in the morning, my day is filled with a range of tasks from horse riding to horse care. Apart from riding lessons, I’m responsible for mucking out the stables, preparing feed, sweeping the barn, and taking the horses for their daily turn-out. On average, I train for 4-5 days a week, depending on the upcoming schedule. As a competition approaches, the intensity of training gradually increases to ensure that both my horse and I are fully prepared.
No matter the weather, I am dedicated to providing the best possible care for my horses. In temperatures as low as -7°C, through rain, snow, and storms, and even in the heat of summer, I make sure my horses are well taken care of. On competition days, I travel with my horses in the horse truck to ensure they receive the best care possible, and I am usually at the competition venue from morning until night.
To keep the horses mentally happy and the training varied, we spend two days a week hacking out in the forest or cantering on the track. I also plan my training in such a way that I ride every day of the week. Even after a long day, I always make sure to check on my horses in the stables before I go to bed.
How do you balance your training and competing schedule with other aspects of your life?
At present, I believe that both I and those around me have been solely focused on the Asian Games. As a result, I have been fully devoted to it and have yet to figure out how to balance it with other areas of my life.
However, like all aspects of life, particularly in sports, sacrifices must be made. In my journey, I too have had to make certain compromises along the way. I am not able to engage in activities that most people my age participate in, and I have had to be away from my home and family, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, riding and competing at this level have always been my aspirations, and the little sacrifices I have had to make seem insignificant in comparison to the opportunity to pursue my dreams. I feel grateful and fortunate to have the chance to do what I love.
Moving forward, I understand the importance of balancing my passion for riding with other aspects of my life for long-term sustainability. Riding is a sport that one can participate in for a lifetime, and I am determined to ride and compete for as long as possible.
What advice would you give to aspiring equestrian athletes, especially those from non-traditional equestrian communities?
Although I do not believe that I am qualified to give advice to others, I have gained significant insight from my own experiences. There are two significant takeaways that I would like to share. Firstly, investing in a skilled trainer is critical to improve and refine one’s riding abilities. The right trainer can offer valuable guidance and support, which can help achieve new levels of success.
Secondly, it is essential to have faith in oneself and prioritize the well-being of one’s horses. Horses have a remarkable ability to go above and beyond for their riders, and as riders, we must prioritize their welfare as our topmost responsibility.
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