Site Logo  Kokpar
This most vegetarian of sporting pursuits reflects to a degree the high standards of Central Asian horsemanship, but to a greater degree the inherent concern for animal welfare felt by all involved as a goat is slaughtered, beheaded and then dragged round a ‘pitch’ by a couple of teams of men, whip in hand, to each of a hollowed out mound of earth which serves as the ‘goal’.
The fierce competition betrays its ostensible simplicity with high levels of skill involved in not only staying upright but also in satisfying the objectives of the game.The steppes' people were talented riders who could grab a goat (admittedly a dead one) while riding a horse at full gallop. This in itself is a sporting spectacle well worth watching, but in kokpar the aim of the game is not only to do this but to ride the carcuss clear of the opposing players and into the goal, which in this case is the aforementioned mound.

It is a very demanding sport which evolved through centuries without much in the way of written rules, although there was an etiquette which reflected the common-sense the danger of the game necessitated. Matches could even go on for days, requiring a great deal of technical ability from the riders. Those who played kokpar were usually regarded as the best of all riders and it was an honour for any horse owner for his mount to be taken for a game.

Into the modern era and much of this is still true. In some cases, top players are sponsored by wealthy locals and may receive handsome remuneration for their exploits. However, today there are rules, not that the casual observer picks up on them watching play, and games are limited in time. The sport is played mainly in Central Asia, there being no evidence of this variety of polo being a spectator sport anywhere else, with the main countries being Kazakhstan of course, but also Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, with some ethnic groups enjoying the game, such as Pashtuns and Hazaras. Russia also competes in the world championships.
After the game, the goat is ritually prepared and cooked, and is said to taste better given the natural tenderisation process that is the very national sport of Kazakhstan, kokpar.