Kyrgyzstan Culture ~ Nomadic Horse Game Kok Boru

In the nation of Kyrgyzstan, and really anywhere the nomadic peoples of Central Asia have roamed, there are horse games, traditional sports from the days of yore that are still today practiced as a test of skill and manliness.  These sports are often played in the summer, when traditionally Kyrgyz folk would head up to the high pastures with their herds of sheep, horses, cows, goats, and children. Living in yurts, the Nomadic people made games with what they had at their disposal, aka, the animals! Hey, that’s [intlink id=”960″ type=”post”]Kyrgyzstan Culture[/intlink]! There are many Kyrgyz games, but horse games are the greatest spectacle.  And the most spectacular, kok boru (kok buru), or buzkashi! Horses, hills, and a dead goat…read on!

I was lucky enough to attend a Horse Games Festival in the Alay Region of [intlink id=”970″ type=”post”]Osh Oblast[/intlink], in Southern Kyrgyzstan. On this amazing day, we spectators experienced three different horse games, with spectacular Kyrgyzstan mountain scenery as the backdrop. Keep reading for the games and video clips of each…

Nomadic traditions- Horse games in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan Culture: Kok Buru, or The Dead Goat Game

Rules to the Game

You take between 2 and 200 men on horseback.  You toss a headless goat carcass in the middle, and be it an individual or a team game, no proper field, the crowd moved with the Kok Buru game, following the cluster of horses and men over hill and dale, always being prepared to turn and run if the action all of a sudden got a little close for comfort. player tries to wrestle the goat away to score in a designated area, which could be a large tire, ‘that tree over there’ or that guy.  It’s basically polo, but with a headless goat carcass as the ball, and with very few rules. It is a contact sport, for the players, the horses, and the spectators. People get grievously injured.  It is amazing.  

The game is sometimes played in very structured ways, like during the World Nomad Games, but just as often the game comes out of a bunch of guys with their horses feeling like having a laugh. And potentially breaking their necks! I was lucky enough to see all kinds of horse games while in the Alay district of Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan culture with horse games, nomadic traditions

Where do they play the dead goat game?

In a general area of any real kind!!  Be it a stadium or an entire undulating hillside.  The play moves as needed, and can be all over the hillside, even where the spectators happen to be standing, it’s up to you to get out if the way!  And yes, we definitely saw some gnarly bails.  I can’t imagine falling off a horse is a fun thing, especially when you’re galloping in a crowd of 75 other galloping horses.  Never let anybody say Kyrgyz culture isn’t a spectacle! 

Nomadic tradition at it’s most exciting!

And “What is the prize for winning?” one may ask.  Well if bragging rights, pride and knowing you’re the manliest guy above 2000 metres isn’t enough, the winner gets to keep the goat! Nicely tenderized. Dinner!

Kyrgyzstan Tradition of Horse Wrestling

What is even more manly than chasing a dead goat on horse back? Wrestling on horseback! Without a doubt, Kyrgyzstan culture is about being strong (just ask me why I had to eat so much sheep meat). And strong arming another dude off of his horse is pretty manly. 

Kyrgyzstan culture- Horse wrestling, a nomadic tradition

The Rules of Central Asian Culture: Horse Wrestling

Are there rules? Well, two men are on their horses. They comes together and try to get the other guy dismounted.  They use their horses’ weight to leverage positions as well as momentum. Whoever hits the ground first loses. Pretty straight forward.


Kyrgyzstan loves horses!


Kyrgyzstan’s Weird Bride Catching Horse Game / Nomadic Cultural Reenactment of Kyrgyzstan’s Gender Paradigm

Ok, I’m a feminist, gender sensitive person.  One of my big heartaches while living in Kyrgyzstan was the gender inequality and major issues relating to gender roles, relations, and practices. These gender issues are so ingrained in parts of Kyrgyz culture, that there is a horse game that makes my feminist red flag wave.  The premise is that there is a man on horse back.  He is seeking a wife. There is a woman on horseback, she is trying to flee. The woman gets a 5 second head start, galloping away from the man as fast as possible.  He then chases her. I know, it makes me irate too.

What is the point? 

Well, the point in my mind is for the woman to ride far far away from such disrespect and objectification.  And in truth, the women who play this game do just that, they are right up there with the men as far as talented riding goes.  If the woman manages to outrun the man, she wins and doesn’t have to marry him.  If he catches her, my assumption would be he takes her as his prize. I am unimpressed that this happens. 

Horse games in Kyrgyzstan

Where do Central Asia’s Nomadic traditions come from?

Central Asia and the Middle East have long been nomadic regions.  The Kyrgyz people as well as Afghans, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Mongolians, and Persians were herders, meaning they followed their animals as the seasons changed and pasture land varied.  Only in the last 150 years have Kyrgyz people had permanent settlements and structures.  These games are a very real link to their nomadic heritage and also connects the peoples of this region with each other, crossing national borders and bonding them with their past.

To this day, many Kyrgyz families summer in the high pastures with their herds, living in yurts and harking back to the days of the nomadic lifestyle.  Horses are major parts of Kyrgyz history, as well as obvious partners in the nomadic culture from the days of old, hence these sports featuring high levels of horsemanship and riding skill. to this day, skill on a horse is seen as a enviable trait in a man, and one that all young boys should aspire to have and all young ladies should look for in a husband. 

A thrilling feature of Kyrgyzstan culture is the nomadic tradition of horse games. The Central Asian traditions are a spectacle of manliness and horseplay.

If you’re heading to Kyrgyzstan, check with Talant at CBT Alay to see if there are any horse games coming up.  Trust me, you do not want to miss this uniquely Central Asian experience! Plus Talant is a really nice guy!  Tell him Emily says Hello!

Want to know more about Kyrgyzstan and the culture of the Kyrgyz people? Check out many more blogs about this unique little country at my [intlink id=”50″ type=”category”]Kyrgyzstan Page[/intlink].


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