Divyakriti Singh Rathore© HelloIndia

Divyakriti Singh Rathore On Her Equestrian Victories

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Priya Kumari Rana

She’s back home at her family’s sprawling ancestral property — the 450-year-old Mundota Palace near Jaipur, perched on a hill overlooking the Aravallis — if only for a few days, but it’s a moment to be savoured. Just like the home-cooked Rajasthani meals she loves so much, and misses while she’s living and training in Germany. Asian Games dressage champion, golden girl Divyakriti Singh Rathore holds the distinction of being the first Indian woman to have been honoured with an Arjuna Award for her achievements in equestrian sports. Basking in the glow of her new-found fame, she’s just about getting used to the accolades, as she hones her talent for competitions ahead.

At this special HELLO! shoot with her horses in the courtyard of the Mundota Palace (the bagh-e-inayat of what is now a heritage hotel, once a horse stable) as the backdrop, later at the baradari (the restaurant), and in the diwan-e-khas (the meeting room), Divyakriti, who’s all of 23, and has returned to India after winning three medals at the Saudi Equestrian Federation Cup in Riyadh, is on a well-earned break.

As she poses in colourful block-print dresses that are the hallmark of the PDKF (Princess Diya Kumari Foundation) fashion brand, it’s a refreshing change from her breeches, riding shirt and blazer combo that she’s been donning for the last two years, immersed, as it were, in the world of equestrian dressage.

With an Asian Games gold in the team event in Equestrian Dressage in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, she’s back to where it all started, in her family estate, where she grew up surrounded by horses.

Divyakriti Singh Rathore©HelloIndia

“Horses have been a part of our family for generations,” says Divyakriti, whose maternal and paternal grandfathers were in the Indian Army. “My father [Vikram Singh Rathore] is into polo, so I had horses at home growing up.”

Today, the Mundota Palace features a polo ground, as Vikram also owns a polo team, with around 80 horses. She remembers climbing into a saddle for the first time at Mundota itself, in the large, open chowk facing the palace. “I have vivid memories of my summer vacation from Mayo College Girls’ School,” she says. “I still love going to my father’s stables. Horses are the most cherished part of my life, and to have them here at home is a dream come true.”

Victory In China

But what really has been a dream come true was standing on that Asian Games podium, in far-off China, holding hands with three other fellow riders-compatriots, as the Indian national anthem played and the tricolour unfurled. India scripted history in the Asian Games equestrian competition by clinching a gold medal after a hiatus of four decades in the team competition. “I still get goosebumps every time I think about it,” says Divyakriti. “Our families were all in the stadium as well as our horses, our trainers. We were neck to neck until the last, and didn’t know we had won. There was no better feeling.”

With her fellow winning teammates all under the age of 25, she shared a sense of camaraderie — with all four of them training in Europe, just like her. “There was a whole line of Indian journalists who had come all the way from Hangzhou (the Asian Games Village) to Tonglu (where the equestrian games were being held), just to cover our story. People went from knowing nothing about dressage, to us getting flooded with calls overnight. Amul even did an ad on us, which was iconic! The support has been overwhelming and our horses, they really fought for us,” says Divyakriti.

An Equine Love

From choosing riding as a sport in boarding school as a homesick 13-year-old girl, to representing India globally, it’s been quite a journey. “At that time, I wanted to be able to meet my parents at riding competitions, so my reason to take up horse riding was a bit selfish!” says Divyakriti, who won her first medal in dressage at the Delhi Horse Show on a horse called Chetak.

But it all began in boarding school at Mayo Girls’, where Divyakriti fell in love with the relationship a rider shares with her horse. “You don’t see that in any other sport,” she says. “Our teammate is the horse!”

Divyakriti Singh Rathore©HelloIndia

What dressage is, in layman’s terms, is like a ‘ballet’ with a horse. A set of memorised, pre-defined movements with a high degree of difficulty — like half-passes and pirouettes — to pre-choreographed music routines, that lasts for 6.5 minutes. There are of course, different levels; at the Asian Games it is the Prix St-Georges (the first level for international show arenas) and for the Olympics, it’s the Grand Prix.

“In my final year of university here in India, I decided I wanted to give the Asian Games a shot,” she says. She was by now a veteran of international competition in Europe, countries like France, Austria, Belgium, Germany and even Florida in the US. In 2020 she moved to Denmark, where she got her first Danish Warmblood horse, Storm. “Living in Denmark for a year taught me a lot,” says Divyakriti.

She would then shift to Germany, to the world’s leading dressage school called Hof Kasselmann in Hagen, close to Düsseldorf, where she lives presently. “The world number seven trains there, as do European champions,” exclaims Divyakriti. She’s been there for the last two years, even acquiring three horses, being coached by Insa Hansen, a former champion and Grand Prix rider — who accompanied her to the Asian Games.

In The Heart Of Germany

Currently residing at Hof Kasselmann, in the pastoral Ruhr area of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia, Divyakriti’s life is all about horses. She reveals, “People my age, my friends, can’t relate to what I do, but it’s a small price to pay.”

Divyakriti Singh Rathore©HelloIndia

She ends up spending the whole day in the stable, morning to evening. “I don’t have a groom [unlike in India], so I have to do it myself. It’s important, you bond with your horse. Seven days a week, I’m riding, cleaning, mucking out, doing the boxes, in and out of the field.” Even Olympic gold medallists have to clean the boxes and the horse stables, she says of this complete equestrian lifestyle. But there are moments to socialise with fellow riders, who are all champions in their own way — and extremely competitive! Otherwise, rain, sun, snow or sleet, her day begins at 6.30am when the horses need to be fed and let out. She stays at the school, in her own small apartment, within walking distance of the stables. She has travelled all over Europe — mostly for competitions, plus a two-week break last summer — and would often travel with her horse in the truck to ensure they were okay. Besides riding for 30-40 minutes a day, Divyakriti also loves to go bike riding around town, and hiking in nature.

Her fashion sense is equestrian — her equipment, from riding britches, to blazer, to hat and gloves, are all Italian. On a daily basis, she can be found in her britches hanging around the stable, but for relaxed barbecues in Germany, she likes to slip on an Anokhi dress. Since her gold medal, she’s also developed a love of saris when in India.

An Olympian Dream

Obviously, training at an elite dressage school and keeping three of one’s own horses all come at a price. Some of these horses cost several crores each. A typical horse bound for the Olympic Games will set a rider back by a cool one million Euros.

Divyakriti Singh Rathore©HelloIndia

Divyakriti is presently funded by her family. “It’s the most expensive sport in the world,” she says. “We got the gold, but we need sponsors and backing to be able to do more.” She says that in Europe, riders have the government and private sponsors to lean on, who invest in them — sometimes up to millions of Euros. “But we have created awareness with our win, so we hope we get there,” she says.

And now, she has her heart set on the 2028 Olympics. “The Arjuna Award really motivated me,” says Divyakriti, who wore a red silk sari with a maroon blazer, as she accepted the Arjuna Award from the President of India, in the presence of the Minister of Sports and other dignitaries. Refreshed from her latest win in Saudi Arabia, she’s motivated, and sees herself beginning her competitive season with a local (Hagen) event called Horses and Dreams, the second largest horse show in Germany.

For Divyakriti, 2023 was a personal best, for the sport and for herself. She asserts,“I may be the first woman, but it’s my responsibility to ensure I am not the last. I started my riding journey at Mayo Girls’, and went back as chief guest for the horse show. It’s been a full circle moment. I saw future gold medallists standing there — there is so much more to come.”

Photos: Abhimanyu Rathore, Creative Direction And Styling: Amber Tikari

This article has been adapted for the website from the April 2024 issue of HELLO! India. Grab your copies here.