Horses, Riders, and a Goat Carcass

Last week, Astana hosted the first ever World Kokpar Championship in conjunction with Expo 2017. Cool. What is kokpar? Kokpar, also known as Buzkashi, is a popular game across Central Asia which takes place on horseback with riders struggling to capture the carcass of a goat and score points for their team. Several nations competed in the event, primarily from Central Asia, but there was a team from the USA as well. Who knew?

I was able to catch a few matches this week, and I must say, they are impressive displays of athleticism! To describe it in a nutshell, it’s a bit of Capture the Flag, basketball, and polo combined into one. It didn’t take too long to figure out what was happening during the match from simply observing, but I Googled the rules for more details.

Firstly, each team has about ten riders, five of which are active on the field at any time. Like basketball, the goat (for these matches it wasn’t a real goat carcass, just a weighted bag in the shape of a goat) is placed in a circle in the center of the field and it essentially is a “jump ball” where people try to snatch it for their side of the field. The riders, while on horseback, lean over to try pick up the goat from the ground. The core and leg strength this must require is remarkable!

Within the jumble of horses and riders, somehow, someone is able to pick up the goat. The trick seems to be to not let anyone know you have the goat, so riders tuck is under their leg and hold it there so they have both hands available to ride the horse. This bit of deception is quite entertaining because some people are very good at hiding the goat until they see an opening to burst down the field at great speed.

To score, the rider must drop the goat within their side’s circle (in other cases, it looks like there is an actual circular structure they must drop it into). After they score, the goat is taken back to the center of the field and the play resumes. Each score is worth one point.

It sounds straightforward, but don’t be fooled, this is an aggressive game! Horses are used as tools to push other riders around, individual tug-of-war matches happen as riders try to steal the goat from one another, and riders perform what I can only describe at horse-acrobatics to capture the goat or prevent others from scoring. It is intense and thrilling to see the abilities of both the horses and riders.

Kazakhstan won the tournament too!

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