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Dzhigitovka, the Art of Riding

Джигитовка (dzhigitovka) designs “the art of riding” performed by a джигит (dzhigit), skilful and brave equestrian. It is an art of bravery, skill and composure, proof of virility among the peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It shows the grace and the agility of a horseman and his art to train and master his horse.

Inheritance of several centuries of traditions, Dzhigitovka has a soul and can't be learned as a simple technic. It's a special communion between a man and his horse, a choreography impregnated with freedom born in the vast windswept steppes, a wonderful dance where body and mind are one.

As a military art, Dzhigitovka was first practiced by the Cossacks in the regiments the Don area and was soon adopted by all the Cossack armies. It then became a warrior art, a way to surprise the enemy, to impress him and show what Cossacks were capable of.

Competitions between regular army horsemen and Cossacks were established and dzhigits would throw challenges to each others, showing their skills and strength. For the need of the show, these prodigious horsemen made the usual army workouts harder by shortening the length of the tracks and by multiplying acrobatics.

What doesn't kill you make you stronger! In all Central Asia, horses were the only way to move on the immensity of the land. Kids would learn how to ride before they knew how to walk. By the age of 10, they already had enough experience and practise to realise the basic acrobatics asked to become a real Dzhigit. The exercises offered during their army trainings had been their games since their childhood. This is probably the reason why experienced Dzhigits would never be short of ideas to created more complicated figures and render the competitions more attractive. The instruction was based on acrobatics at full gallop. Among the most common figures Dzhigits should be able to jump to the ground and back to the saddle, pick up a small object on the ground, stand up on the back of his horse. Best riders could shoot at an apple on the head of a volunteer. I let you imagine the precision it required and the trust between the rider and his horse!

After the revolution and the civil war that followed in 1917, the Cossack army was no longer necessary and the dzhigits had to take the roads of exile. Most of them knew nothing but war logistic and horse riding. They were destined to live in misery as Dzigitovka became their only way to survive.

With the migration of Russians at the beginning of the 20th century, Cossacks brought with them the Art of Riding. Europe just fell in love with those fearless horsemen and soon some of them created their own troupe and own show.

Over the years, the military trainings gave place to more subtle and acrobatic trainings. The very spirit of dzhigitovka, which permitted every young dzhigit to prove his supremacy on a horse, lost its essence and became the shadow of a secular tradition.

Nowadays, in Russia, the revival of the dzhigitovka as a communion between man, horse and nature, seems to be an impossible mission. But the shows that can be seen are all the same very impressive.

Джигитовка (dzhigitovka) designs “the art of riding” performed by a джигит (dzhigit), skilful and brave equestrian

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