We are all familiar with polo, the team sport played on horseback. But have you heard of kokpar? When it comes to devising a game with horses, no one does it better than the nomads of Kazakhstan.
Take two teams of riders and a decapitated goat (which serves as the game ball) and you get a fun game of kokpar, which roughly means “goat grabbing”. But there are no mallets involved. Instead, players use their hands to snatch the dead goat from one another. By the end of the game, players often emerge blood-soaked from head to toe, which can make for a shocking sight.
But hold your horses – there is more to the exotic game than fighting over the carcass of a headless goat.
How is kokpar played?
The objective of the ancient equestrian sport is to lift the goat off the ground and carry it to your team’s goal post at one end of the field. It may sound simple, but kokpar requires stamina, skill and guts. It is certainly not a game for the faint-hearted – there are no rules against pushing an opponent off his horse or snatching the goat from another player.
Injuries from broken bones or being trampled by horses are not uncommon. But these risks are no deterrent to most riders. The game has been traced back to Genghis Khan’s horse-mounted raiders in the 13th century and was commonly played between villages. Today, kokpar is a game that enjoys nostalgic prestige across Central Asia, and often draws spectators from near and far wanting to be part of the exhilarating experience!
What happens to the goat?
By the end of the game, the carcass, which usually weighs 30kg to 35 kg, is anything but appetising with broken limbs and mud-soaked skin. But nothing gets wasted and all of it is eaten. In fact, the meat is highly sought after as it is believed to help couples conceive a male child.