Lots of athletes have pre-competition rituals to settle jittery nerves.
For Russia’s Inessa Merkulova’s 12-year-old Trakehner Mister X, that ritual involves his owner reading novels to him before their Grand Prix dressage tests. But it’s not Tolstoy he’s after. Mister X likes ‘love’ stories of a more pedestrian kind. Like Fifty Shades of Grey.
Merkulova revealed his guilty pleasure following the duo’s performance in the Grand Prix at the Rio Olympics on Thursday. “Every time before a competition, I go and read books to him for about an hour and a half. He loves listening to my voice, he’s calming down, he’s tuning in for the competition. He always knows,” she said, laughing.
“He’s not a horse to me. He’s a person.”
Merkulova and Mister X have built a strong relationship over the years. Merkulova was the first rider to sit on his back and today, she is the only person who rides him. By the time he reached seven years old, she knew he was an extraordinary horse.
The horse business is a family affair for Merkulova, who runs an 80-horse training stable in Russia with her husband, cousin, and daughter.
Rio is the first Olympic Games for the 51-year-old Merkulova, who almost had her Olympic dreams dashed when the IOC considered a blanket ban of Russian athletes due to past doping scandals. Her admissibility was still up in the air when Mister X was already in transit to Rio.
“It was unbelievable stress,” she said. “During the process, I couldn’t sleep. I’ve been in the international sport for 20 years and I’ve been tested many times and all of my horses are absolutely clean. It would have been a shame if I was unable to compete.”
“The international equestrian federation kept us posted and morally supported so we are very grateful to the FEI,” she said.
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