5 Traditional Horse Games Still Played in Kyrgyzstan
What kind of horse games will I see in Kyrgyzstan? Nomadic games including “dead goat polo,” horseback wrestling, and long distance races.
Kyrgyz nomads have long been breeding and herding livestock in the steppes and mountainsides of Central Asia, the nomadic lifestyle creating an inseparable bond between the Kyrgyz people and their horses. Not only do horses provide daily transportation in the mountains, but their meat and milk is often consumed as a part of Kyrgyz cuisine. As a result of their constant interaction with horses, Kyrgyz nomads are incredibly skilled horsemen and often compete against each other in a variety of games designed to show off their skill and endurance.
Long before firearms entered the picture, Kyrgyz nomads had to protect their livestock from various predators, the fiercest of which was the wolf. In order to fend them off, skilled riders would actually run down the wolves and beat them with whips or sticks with the riders fighting for a chance at the wolf. This became the basis for the game called “kok boru,” or “grey wolf.” Nowadays the game is called Ulak Tartysh and is the most popular horse game in Kyrgyzstan.
To play Ulak Tartysh, two teams gather on a field of about 300 m X 150 m for 15 minutes of intense competition. A dead, headless goat is placed in the middle of the field and the two teams race on horseback to pick up the goat and deposit it into the opposing team’s goal. Naturally, everyone’s fighting for it, so the game can get pretty rough, bloody even. However, to the victor go the spoils: a very tender goat that can be cooked up as a celebratory meal.
Oodarysh is a wrestling match on the back of a horse! Two men try to throw each other off their horses. The wrestling match is won when someone is knocked to the ground or a rider and horse both go down together.
At Chabysh is a long distance horse race that even teenagers can participate in. The race can be set for between 4 and 50 kilometers long. Horses have to be at least 3 years old and the minimum age for participants is 13.
Tyin Enmey is a competition to see who can pick a coin up off the ground by reaching down from atop their horse at the minimum speed of a gallop, not slowing down one iota as they bend down to pick it up! The distance of the field is about 100 meters, with the coin placed 50 – 60 meters from the start of the field. Each rider is allowed 3 tries. The rider that successfully acquires the coin the most times is the winner.
Kyz Kuumai was originally part of nomadic wedding ceremonies. The bride and groom mount their respective horses, the woman on the faster of the two horses. The bride begins racing away from the groom with a bit of a head start. The groom, riding the slower horse, is supposed to catch up to the bride and give her a kiss as a show of his love and determination. If the groom cannot catch up to the bride, she’s allowed to smack him with her whip! Even if that happens though, the wedding ceremony still continues. Now this race can be seen at festivals and during holiday celebrations.
For travelers interested in non guided horseback riding or watching Ulak Tartysh and Kyz Kuumai, there are 2 horse game festivals scheduled for 2014 in the village of Kyzyl Oi located in the Suusamyr Valley. The dates are July 19 and August 23 with an entrance fee of 500 som. Other games take place during various holidays and celebrations.