You may get lucky enough to see a buzkashi or Kok-boru game during your stay in Kyrgyzstan, especially on August 31st, the national holiday. This equestrian game, very different from the chic and calm polo, is a confrontation between two teams of riders who battle for a goat carcass that serves as a ball.
Also called ulak tartysh in Kyrgyz, this traditional sport is an impressive and memorable show. It may appear very brutal, but will show you the incredible agility of the horses and their riders. Local spectators, who often show up in large crowds, are very excited during the game.
Back in history
The name buzkashi comes from the Farsi boz (goat) and kashi (pull). A legend says that this game was inspired from observing wolves teaching their cubs to hunt.
This sport used to be the main animation during Turkmen weddings, but has now spread throughout the Central Asian region. Every country has its own rules. Kyrgyzstan became world champion of Kok Boru at the last World Nomad Games. For the Kyrgyz nomads who play the game every week, buzkashi is not only an amusement but a good training for their hard, physical job.
How to play the game
Two teams confront each other during a game of Buzkashi. The number of players varies on this immense field – the steppes and valleys of Central Asia are the ideal playground for this sport.
The goal of the game is to grab, from the horse, the beheaded animal carcass, usually a goat or a sheep. The player then has to gallop through the field to throw the “ball” in the goal, drawn on the ground with chalk or signaled with tires.
Only one selected rider from each team is allowed to try to grab the goat or sheep at the beginning of the game. They gallop towards the animal, bent down to try to grab the carcass that weighs at least 20 kg (44 lbs). Once a player has seized the animal, all of the players are invited to try to snatch the carcass away from the player.
Buzkashi players must be very strong, agile and strategic to succeed in this game. It is very brutal and only open to men: all along the game, you will see the players whip the horses, wrestle, kick their opponents, and, possibly, fall. Everything is allowed to get the sheep and win. Some players can be wounded, and there are several deaths during the year due to a too passionate game of Kok Boru.
Buzkashi players are excellent horse riders. Their horses are trained for long and dense years to be able to play this sport. Some are even trained to bite and push other horses.
The winner is the team which scored the most goals. Kumyz (traditional horse milk) and vodka will celebrate the victory.