kokpar

theguardian.com
I’ll get my goat: Kazakhstan's ancient sport for modern times
The long read: The sport of kokpar is like blood-drenched polo, with a headless goat as the ball. And even as Kazakhstan tries to forge a modern, high-tech identity for itself, this age-old game is being pushed as a defining part of its culture
By Will Boast

Neat article on kokpar (buzkashi) with some talk about the significance of the horse in central Asia.

Lazer and Abugali form the core of Aulie-Ata (“Sacred Grandfathers”), the team from the southern city of Taraz that has dominated Kazakh kokpar for the last decade. They have come to Taldykorgan hoping to bring home their ninth National Games title. Other teams regularly offer millions of Kazakh tenge (1m tenge is worth around £2,300) for Lazer, to no avail. When I ask Abugali who is more important, the horse or the rider, he doesn’t hesitate: “The horse.”

With the teams in position, the ref gives the signal. Lazer and an Almaty horse dart into the circle, and Lazer immediately twists around the goat, drops his centre of gravity, and uses his short, unyielding body to box his opponents out, giving Abugali, his rider, just enough time to swing down and grab the carcass.

They’re off – charging down the field, getting enough of a lead to give Abugali time to pull the goat up to his chest and fling it forward for a goal. One of the line judges, a weathered, moustached man named Kulzhatayev Maulebkazi, points in astonishment. “You see?” he says. “You see this horse? Best horse in all of Asia!”

Lots of neat history. Obligatory rough riding mention.