What’s Buzkashi?

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Buzkashi is a violent and fast-paced equestrian sport popular in Central Asia, particularly Afghanistan. It involves picking up and holding a dead goat or calf while riding horses. The game tests the skills of riders and horses, rewarding aggressive and decisive movements. The horses used are agile and strong, and riders control them with their legs. The game is played in teams, but alliances shift, and riders can foul each other. Serious injuries are not uncommon, and the winning rider and horse owner are rewarded.

Buzkashi, or ‘goat catching’, is a violent and fast-paced equestrian sport practiced in many parts of Central Asia. At one point, it could be considered polo’s wilder cousin. It is particularly associated with Afghanistan and is considered by many people to be Afghanistan’s national sport. This game is not for the faint of heart; it requires experienced riders and horses and a hard stomach, as this is a dead goat or calf. Casual games of Buzkashi are popular in many parts of Afghanistan and Central Asia, and serious competitors also participate in formal competitions.

The sport is known by a variety of names in Central Asia, including Ulak Tartysh. It has been played for hundreds of years, as written and painted in the area indicate. In essence, it tests the skills of riders and horses, rewarding people for aggressive, strong, and decisive movements. By tradition, riders do not own their horses; instead, the prized mounts used in Buzkashi are owned and trained by third parties who select talented riders for their animals.

In theory, Buzkashi is played in teams, but the game is a classic illustration of shifting alliances. The objective of the game is to pick up and hold a dead goat or calf, which is traditionally decapitated and filled with sand or rocks to make it heavier. In a variation of the game called Tudabarai, riders simply have to push the goat away from the crowd of other riders, or they can play a more challenging version, Qarajai, where riders have to go around a target at one end of the field and then throw the goat in a clearly marked tub or ring.

Team members can foul members of another team to regain control of the goat, but they will also turn on each other. Riders may strike, bump, whip, or slap each other to grab the goat, and must hold the animal rather than coil it in their saddles. Most Buzkashi runners wear heavy clothing to protect themselves from other players, and serious injuries are not uncommon. At the end of the game, the winning rider is rewarded with prizes and the owner of the horse also offers a reward.

The horses used in Buzkashi are very agile and strong, with the ability to stop a penny when required. Riders are usually able to control their mounts with their legs alone, leaving their hands free to attack other players or hold the goat. It takes years of experience to play well, although casual gamers are often welcome in casual games.

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