Philosophy student goes circus: Orest Sosnivka


Cecilia G. Hernandez, Writer

As adrenaline rushed through his body, Orest Sosnivka and his trick horse Bubba both heard the crowds cheer, the music blasting and the sounds of hooves hitting the ground. While the audience looked on, Sosnivka went underneath Bubba’s belly as Bubba continued to run circles around the ring and Sosnivka held on tight.

Senior Philosophy student Orest Sosnivka is a trained Cossack rider, or “trick” rider, who has immense trust in his horse.

“He was like my trick horse,” Sosnivka said. “I was the only one doing tricks on him. We were trained together when we were both young and we became a very good duo.

I don’t think I’ve trusted any horse more than him, ever,” he said. “He was my first.”

Sosnivka said Bubba was “one of [his] favorite personalities.”

“He loves giving kisses,” Sosnivka said. “He always wanted to see what you were doing, what was in your hand, kind of like a kid. But when it was showtime, he was in the zone.”

But Sosnivka and Bubba weren’t always the dynamic duo; they butted heads when they first started training together.

“We were not on the same page, we were not on the same rhythm,” Sosnivka said. “He was like a teenager. It was hard to get him to work. He would always jump out of the ring curve, he would just be goofy.”

Sosnivka explained Bubba didn’t have any “malicious thoughts” behind his “acting out.”

“He just wanted to play and I didn’t have enough horse experience to be like in control, so I would get agitated too,” he said.

Before starting his trick riding training, Sosnivka was at a Ukraine dance school. He then transitioned to acting and did some commercial work. Sosnivka was a part of Chicago’s Noble Horse Theatre in 2010, doing about three shows a year to help build his resume.

Along with this, Sosnivka was informally training with trick rider friends he met when he was eight years old. His mom had taken Sosnivka to see “Circus World Museum” in Wisconsin right after coming to the U.S. from Ukraine and was brought backstage because the production manager’s daughter heard them speaking Russian.

“I guess not a lot of people in Wisconsin spoke Russian, so the little girl heard us speaking it and she was like, ‘Oh, you guys speak Russian? You want to go backstage?’” Sosnivka said. “We met them randomly like that and stayed friends throughout the years.”

Sosnivka trained under Omar Chinibekov with his friends and Bubba. With continuous training every day for an hour after school, Bubba and Sosnivka grew to understand each other. They were hired to do a show called “The Wizard” for Circus Flora in St. Louis, Missouri in 2012.

“Flora was the best show because that was the last time all of us [performed] together,” Sosnivka said. “We closed the show, we were the finale.”

As the riders felt excited to perform, Sosnivka said the horses feel the same way, too.

“You can tell when it’s showtime and when the music comes on, our horses are like – they’re ready, you know, like ‘put me out there,’” he said. “They feed off the same energy.”

Sosnivka said working with horses is very different than working with people because they’re more consistent. Yet, there are similarities in personalities.

“They also don’t want to wake up in the mornings to go to practice,” Sosnivka said, laughing a little. “We’re all kind of sluggish, but the horse is not going to be like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go today,’ or kind of whine; they’re on top of their game.”

Sosnivka later came back to Chicago and joined the MSA and Circus Arts in Humboldt Park while taking classes at NEIU. He said the Philosophy department helped him continue going to circus school.

With constant communication and turning in assignments on time, Sosnivka said he wasn’t scared of getting a lower grade because of poor attendance.

“Our Philosophy department is phenomenal,” Sosnivka said. “They helped me figure out who I want to be. They were very understanding about the kind of life that I live and my schedule.”

Sosnivka today teaches traditional dances from Ukraine in Palatine, and trick riding at the Transitions Equestrian Center in Indiana. As for Bubba, Sosnivka’s trainer sold him about two years ago to another trick rider who was working more frequently.

“He’s very happy,” Sosnivka said reassuringly. “I see him once in a while.”

When asked if Bubba still recognizes him, Sosnivka laughed.

“Yes. The first time I saw him after selling him he didn’t want to look at me. He gave me attitude,” he said. “I walked up to his stall, and he just turned his head and showed me his butt. I was like, ‘Bubba, I’m sorry!’”

Bubba continues to do shows with his new trick rider. He worked a few shows in “Cavalia” last year.

As for Sosnivka, he graduates this May from NEIU and is not completely sure what he wants to do as a career. He said he doesn’t see himself doing “just one thing for the rest of [his] life,” and loves to travel and perform on stage.

“I think I do see myself doing circus work,” Sosnivka said. “Right now I’m physically able, I’m good at what I do. I’m good in front of people, performing, and I don’t see why I should stop, you know?”