Buzkashi is a mounted game originating in Central Asia, particularly Afghanistan, in which players attempt to pick a goat or calf carcass off of the ground, carry it to a goal, and throw it into the goal in order to score points.
The exact origins of Buzkashi are not exactly known this day, but many believe that the sport began in the Oxus basin. Using horses in battle was a common practice in early central Asia, as they were some of the first people groups to domesticate horses. The sport is thought to have started in the practice camps of the mounted military units.
Historically, Buzkashi has been quite popular in Afghanistan. It is officially the nation sport. Under the Taliban regime, Buzkashi was outlawed on the grounds of being immoral. Much like many traditions, the game was ceased during that time period. After the collapse of the Taliban, enthusiasts brought the game back and it is now played regularly across the country on Fridays.
The participants of Buzkashi are called Chapandaz. The Chapandaz are generally middle-aged. Afghanis believe that a Chapandaz must be experienced in vigorous training and horse riding skills.
There are two varieties of Buzkashi. On Tudabarai, the player with the goat carcus must run away from all of the other players. Once the player is clear, the point is scored. In Qarajai, there is a distinguished goal, which is made up of a circle. The rider must round a flag pole, then toss the carcass into the circle.
Traditionally, a Buzkashi match could last for days. Since the introduction of Buzkashi to the Afghan Olympic Federation, there are rules to determine duration of the match. Under these regulations, a match is divided into two 45-minute halves, with a 15 minute break in between. A referee controls the game and attempts to keep players from breaking rules. The game is played in a square arena, measuring 400 x 400 meters. Ten riders play for each team and substitutions are allowed according to the referee’s judgment. Many of the rules in Buzkashi are unwritten. For example, the players cannot tie the carcass to the saddle; it must be held with his body.
Instead of using a ball, like many mounted sports, the tradition of Buzkashi is to use a headless animal. The calf and goat are the popular choices. To prepare for the game, the animal’s head is cut off and insides removed. The legs are cut at the knees and the skin is toughened through a water soak.
At the outset of the game, the body of the animal rests in the starting circle. All of the Chapandaz ride towards the carcass and attempt to pick it up while remaining on the horse. The mob of horses and riders is called a melee. Horses push towards the carcass and wait for the rider to pick it up. Riders use whips to fend off opponents and the horses of opponents. While the new rules dictate that players may not intentionally whip another player, the game has historically been a bloody one. Some games tend to interpret the whipping rule a bit liberally. The spectators enjoy a violent game, showcasing the toughness of the Chapandaz.
Typically, the winners of Buzkashi are awarded bragging rights, a higher ranking and various prizes. Prizes for competition include turbans, rifles or money. Many players do not own their horses. The horses are owned and care for by wealthy Afghani citizens. The owners seek out the best Chapandaz, who then are sponsored by the wealthy and able to use the horse. A well established Chapandaz will have his choice of fine horses.
The horses used in Buzkashi are among the toughest in the world. They are incredibly well trained and able to withstand the beating that is typical of a Buzkashi match.
Buzkashi horses are ridden either bareback or with a small cloth on their backs. Saddles are not used in the sport. The horses are fitted with reins, although some Chapandaz rarely even control the horses.
Only male horses are used in Buzkashi. The horses are specially trained for the sport for years. Only older horses who have enough experience play in official competitions. When the horses race toward the carcass, they use their bodies to shove other horses out of the melee. When the horse reaches the carcass and the rider reaches down, the horse stops immediately. Once the rider has secured the carcass, the horse takes off at a break-neck galloping speed.
If a rider falls off of the horse, the horse will stop and wait for the rider to climb back on to its back. It is also said that a good Buzkashi will avoid a fallen rider on the ground and will also maneuver to avoid collisions.
Though Buzkashi horses endure the whip and other violence in the game, they are well taken care-of. Buzkashi horses are expensive and as such as well cared for. Instead of classifying by breed characteristics, Afghanis classify their horses by color. Gray horses are called taragh, ash blond horses are called samand, red horses jayran and white horses qezel or boze. The horses are fed a special blend to prepare them for competition.
A Chapandaz will wear traditional Buzkashi attire, which generally consists of a thick hat, a quilted dress, long boots and scares around the waist. The boots are specially made for the sport with higher heels to lock into the stirrups. When the horseman reaches for the carcass, oftentimes opponents will grab his shoulders in an attempt to pull him from the horse. The boots can help the Chapandaz maintain position atop the horse.
Buzkashi is a rich historical tradition as well as modern passion for the Afghani people. The game is played for entertainment and also for different festivals or ceremonies. The game is rough and the players brave. The horses are refined. Great Buzkashi teams represent the relationship between horse and rider that is essential for success in any equestrian sport.