Russia’s Glamor Couple, Mister X & Inessa Merkulova
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Aug. 26, 2015
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
The extravagant-moving Mister X and equally flamboyant rider, Inessa Merkulova, brought Russia close to qualifying a team for the Olympics than any squad that included Russians since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-cntury ago.
The Russian team finished just 0.204 behind France’s qualifying score of 212.757. Although the team fell short, Inessa and the 11-year-old Russian-bred Trakehner gelding are leading the rankings of horses and riders who can qualify to start at Rio de Janeiro as an individual.
The highlight so far in their 2 1/2 years at Grand Prix that includes the 2014 World Games in Normandy and the 2015 European Championships at Aachen, Germany was the World Cup Final in Las Vegas in April this year.
The glamor and glitter of Las Vegas show biz was perfect for Mister X and Inessa. And the crowd, overwhelmingly American and adoring of World Cup title defenders Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, returned the love.
Mister X and the 50-year-old Inessa attracted attention when they first showed in Western Europe in 2014 after beginning their international career, first at small tour in 2013 before quickly moving to Grand Prix in Russia.
Inessa began riding at the age of 11 and and along the way taught physical education at North Ossetian State University in Vladikavkaz.
Before Mister X she competed various horses at the World Equestrian Games in Rome in 1998; Jerez, Spain in 2002 and Aachen Germany in 2006 as well as the European Championships in 1991 and 2001 and the World Cup Finals in 2006.
Mister X was three years old when he first came into the life of Inessa and her husband, Anatoly, at their New Century equestrian club. They bought the horse 18 months later.
“From that age until today I work only Mister X myself,” Inessa told dressage-news.com. “From about seven years, I have realized that he can become an extraordinary horse.”
Mister X, affectionately called “Iksik” in the barn, “is not a horse” to Inessa but “‘a man who understands and seems to want to get into all that we do. He likes humans, likes to be around a lot of people when all are busy with him, I think he likes it more than a walk.”
He eats everything he’s offered even if e doesn’t like it but his favorites are carrots and watermelon.
At the time she started seriously working Mister X, Yuri Feinstein joined New Century to work with her husband, who was also secretary general of the Russian Equestrian Federation, in training at what has become a major dressage center in Russia with about 80 employees including gardeners, grooms and dining room staff.
In March, 2012 she became the Russian national dressage team senior coach in March 2012..
The first championship for Inessa and Mister X was the World Cup Final in Lyon, France in 2014 where they placed 10th. The same year, Inessa was named Best Coach and Athlete of the Year by the Russian Federation as well as being awarded the title of Master of International Sport of International Class in Russia.
Then came the World Games in Normandy a year ago and the Russian team that had Inessa and Mister and her Vosk ridden by Marina Aframeeva finished 18th. Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain qualified for the Olympics.
And in April this year, they competed at the World Cup Final that was a celebration of individual performance but did not earn a ticket to Rio.
That was to be decided at the European Championships in Aachen where Marina Aframeeva and Vosk were also on the team, with the combinations from New Century Club making up half the Russian squad in hopes of fulfilling Inessa’s primary goal as national coach of winning a team slot at Rio.
But Russia placed seventh, a mere fraction behind France that along with Sweden and Spain earned their Olympic starting slots.
Russia is still rebuilding dressage, but Inessa believes that a new group of promising young riders will make their marks in the international arena in the coming years.
Although she is raising her daughter and pursues her passion of gardening, especially cultivating thousands of roses at the equestrian center, she rides several horses every day as well as Mister X.
Mister X and Inessa, barring anything unforeseen, will likely end up in Rio.
Of the 60 places reserved for dressage, 40 have been allocated for 10 teams, four in each, with the remainder being individuals. However, if at least three horses and riders from a single nation rank high enough to qualify a so-called “composite” team can be formed.