An officer barked, and the 18 uniformed riders took off down the rain-splattered sand along the Don River, the flags of Russia and the Don Cossack host fluttering behind them.

“Reins in hand! At a trot, march!”

It was the day of the match between FC Rostov and FC Ural, and Cossacks on horse and foot were patrolling the embankment and roads as 40,000 fans flooded Rostov Arena, which will host teams like Brazil and Iceland during the World Cup next month.

“One horse can replace several police officers if we need to disperse people. Fans are hot-tempered people, so you never know,” said Yaroslav Yaroslavtsev, deputy commander of the Cossack horse centre in this southern city of 1.1 million. “We’re…

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