Equestrianism (馬術)

Equestrianism (called 'bajutsu' in Japan) refers to recreational activities and competitive sports and a system of technique of riding or driving horses and aiming at accuracy, activity, beauty, and so on.


As for recreational activities and competitive sports, there are mainly the British equestrianism originated in Europe and the Western equestrianism originated from cowboys' riding in America.

The European equestrianism had been originally developed in ancient Greece; a work by Xenophon is known as the oldest equestrian textbook; the modern equestrianism was developed in the Renaissance of Italy through appreciating Xenophon's work. In the eighteenth century, François Robichon de la Guérinière of France organized that equestrianism, and at present he is called 'kindai bajutsu no chichi' (the father of the modern equestrianism). In the nineteenth century, Gustav Steinbrecht of Germany laid the foundation of the German equestrianism whose riding and schooling techniques became the base of present dressage.

In the early twentieth century, an equestrian captain of Italy, Federico Caprilli invented a new riding style in which the stirrups are shortened and the rider leans forward; at present, his style is used broadly by the jumping riders and the eventing riders.

The Japanese classical equestrianism have become obsolete in Japan and at present only some learned people are practicing that riding; at the shootings of Japanese costume dramas including the famous Sunday evening dramas of NHK, almost all the actors adopt the British equestrianism or the Western equestrianism.

The British equestrianism and the Western equestrianism are very different in the techniques and the styles, but the respect for horses is a heart common to them both. In the modern Olympic Games, the equestrianism is the sole event using animals and also the sole event not separating male athletes and female athletes.

In the Olympic Games, dressage, jumping and eventing are performed; in the world championships, para-equestrian dressage, endurance and driving are added to them.

In the Paris Olympic Games of 1900, equestrian high jumps and long jumps were performed, but they were no longer performed since then because of a high risk of tumbles and falls. In the Antwerp Olympic Games of 1920, equestrian figure (of individuals and teams) was performed, but it was abolished after that.

For a long time, in the modern Olympic Games, only military men had the right to enter the equestrian events; in the Helsinki Olympic Games of 1952, male athletes except military men and female athletes could enter the events for the first time.

In the Meiji era, the Japanese Imperial Army (refer to 'the Military Equestrian School of Japan') discarded the Japanese traditional equestrianism, adopted mainly the European equestrianism, and developed it. Therefore, many equestrian terms in Japan originate from the military terms.

Kyaku (脚)
It refers to the rider's legs (legs and thighs) in the equestrian world. It is different from the horse's legs which are called 'ashi肢' in Japan (except for the equestrian world, usually 'ashi' refers to man's legs and it is written as '脚'). The kyaku (the rider's legs) are important for the communication with the horse and managing the horse to go forward.

Japanese traditional equestrianism
In Japan, the bajutsu (equestrianism) had been one of the Bugei Juhappan (the eighteen important military arts) and essential for the medieval bushi (swordsmen). However, since the Edo period, the traditional equestrianism had been gradually forgotten. As for the reasons, in the long Edo period, there weren't many bloody wars, and the bushi class was required more political ability than the ability for the military arts, what's more, there weren't many equestrians nor rich bushi who could afford to learn the equestrianism. In the past, horses had been considered to be one of weapons, such as swords and guns, therefore, the people except for the bushi class, such as tradesmen and peasants, had been forbidden to ride horses.

The horseshoes had been unknown, so the horses had put on waraji (straw sandals) or nothing since their bare hooves were solid enough. As for other features of the Japanese traditional equestrianism, the techniques for the castration had been unknown as well; people respected male horses vigorous enough to bite people especially at wars; since the bushi always wore long and short swords, they rode the horses from the opposite side to the way of the European equestrianism.

British equestrianism
Since it had been developed reflecting the manners of the aristocracy, the accuracy and the beauty of the riding are considered to be important.

The decencies of the equestrians are important as well; at the formal events, it requires the formal dress such as a tailcoat and a top hat or regimentals. The female rider is required to wear a long dress and a hat with a flower on the breast, and to use a side-saddle, but, at present, that dress is rarely seen.

Generally, the jumping rider is required to wear an evening dress (including hacking jacket and tweed jacket in the equestrianism world) and a hard hat; the dressage rider is required to wear an evening dress or a tailcoat and a top hat. The dress code is basically different with classes; the tailcoat is required in the top class competitions and the evening dress is required in the other competitions. There are black jackets and red jackets; normally the black jackets are worn since the red jackets are originally for the leader of fox hunting.

In the British equestrianism, the rider tightens the rein to control the horse closely; this is the basic feature of the riding style. The rider uses a simple saddle to move his legs freely. Most of the events played in the formal competitions including the Olympic Games originate from the British equestrianism.

Western equestrianism

It had been developed by the cowboys who had to ride long-distance in the unexplored land. The rider should wear a cowboy hat, jeans and a belt with a buckle as the formal dress of the Western equestrianism.

The rider uses a durable saddle to prevent getting tired from riding for a long time; the distinctive riding style is called 'loose rein'; the rider looses the rein to make the horse move the head and keep its balance, and controls the horse by touching the rein to the horse's neck without directly pulling the bit. This is a good way to make the most of the horse's reflexes which are required in some events such as cutting.

The Western equestrianism developed from the cowboys' workings. There are various events such as Western horsemanship, reining, barrel racing, and cutting. The techniques are used in rodeos as well, but the rodeo event is not categorized into the Western equestrianism.

Generally Western riders are considered to control the horse with one hand, but it is an advanced technique which is originally for cowboys to use the other hand for their workings; so the riders basically rein with both hands at the normal competitions except the top class competitions and at the basic practices. In the British equestrianism, some events, such as polo and Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride, riders have to rein with one hand. Rriders usually control four reins with one hand.

Some Japanese say that in the Western equestrianism there is no correspondence to the rising trot of the British equestrianism, but the Western equestrian performs 'the posting trot' which corresponds to the rising trot. The posting trot is originally a term of the British equestrianism and recently it is broadly adopted by the British equestrian. However, it was evolved by the Western equestrian in America and it is not found in other equestrianism including the Spanish traditional equestrianism.

Equestrianism in universities

Following the defeat at World War Ⅱ, the Japanese cavalry was abolished, and one of the equestrian strongholds was lost at the same time. The equestrianism requires horses and facilities, such as riding grounds and stables; in postwar Japan, the riders of universities played an important role to continue the equestrianism, since there were few equestrian clubs, although at present they are many clubs. The present universities' clubs are still important for students to begin riding and to aim to enter the competitions.

In 1928, the first All Japan University Equestrian Championship was held for student riders of universities' clubs. In 1957, All Japan University Equestrian Federation was organized as an association that belongs to Japan Equestrian Federation. At present, All Japan University Equestrian Federation holds the All Japan University Prize for dressage, jumping and eventing, the All Japan University Equestrian Championship, and the Championship for Female Equestrian.

[Original Japanese]