Jereed is a mounted equestrian sport played in Turkey involving javelin throwing. The players in jereed throw a blunted spear at their opponents in order to earn points. The sport is a rich part of Turkish tradition both historically and today.
Jereed has been a part of Turkish culture for centuries, dating back to the days of the Turkish states. Horses were a long-time tradition in military use as well as domestic use throughout Turkey’s history. Jereed was created as a war game in 1071 by Alsparslan of Seljuk.
Due to the dangerous nature of the game, jereed has waxed and waned in popularity. At one point in time during the 19th century, under the rule of Mahmud II, the game was outlawed altogether, only to be brought back years later. Today the game is placed only in Eastern Anatolia and other places throughout central Asia in which Turkish people carry on their traditions.
Two teams face off in a jereed match. The teams are made up of 6, 8 or 12 players depending on the game. The players line on in an square arena that measures anywhere from 70 to 130 meters. At either end of the arena, a 6-meter area marks off the team’s waiting area. The opposing team should not throw into the waiting area.
Many jareed competitions begin with parades to celebrate the rich heritage of the sport. Music and drums mark the beginning of the match as the colors of each team are proudly displayed. The players will wear traditional costume as a ceremonial aspect of the game.
During the game, players challenge one another. A rider from one side will cross to the opponent’s side, riding within 30 or 40 meters to the other team, then calling out a challenge to one of the opponents. The opponent will then chase down the challenger with the opportunity to throw the javelin at the challenge. Once the challenger returns to his side, another team member will leave the box to meet the rider. The game continues in this back and forth exchange.
Jereed games are divided into periods, with each period lasting for 45 minutes. The game jereed is named for the stick that is thrown during the game. A jereed is a stick made from oak or poplar, dried. The sticks are fitted with a blunt, rubber tip. Sticks measure anywhere from 70 to 100 cm long and 2-3 cm in diameter. The sticks are lighter and have more safety precautions than in years past to avoid serious injury as a result of the dangerous sport.
In jereed, points are awarded for hitting the opponent with the stick. Outriding an opponent or catching a stick in midair will also result in a point increase. Players are to only hit other players with the sticks, so any player that hits a horse is penalized for that action. Other breaking of the rules on horseback results in point deductions.
One very important component to playing the sport of jereed is the rider’s ability to avoid being hit by the stick. In this avoidance, defensive maneuvering has become a top skill of great jereed players. Many of the defensive movements involved the shifting of weight and laying flat against the horse. Jareed players will lean extremely to one side of the other to avoid the jareed sticks. The player throwing the sticks is allowed to throw more than stick and in fact, the more sticks that make contact with the fleeing player, the more points are scored.
Turkey has been credited with some of the finest breeds of horses, particularly as one of the first people groups to domesticate horses. Turkish Arabian horses are some of the fastest horses in the world. Considered a hot-blooded breed, Arabians have great speed, excellent acceleration and a spirited temperament.
Arabian horses are one of the most refined breeds. Arabians are very lean with an arched back and neck. The heads are fine and triangular. Arabians have wide eyes. While some Arabians have stronger hindquarters, most remain smaller and arched. Arabians have excellent endurance in sporting events.
Arabians have a kind disposition and are especially patient with human handlers. Arabian horses can also be quite spirited. This breed of horse is also particularly noted for its increased intelligence. Arabians train well in positive training experiences but tend to act out in abusive situations. After years of adapting to the harsh dessert climates in the Arabian areas, Arabian horses developed into a breed that has excellent endurance as well as will to survive and thrive.
Jereed can be a dangerous sport. The riders do not wear helmets or any other protective coverings when playing the sport. The sticks, while typically made of a lighter poplar rather than the heavy oak, can still inflict plenty of damage upon players. In Turkey, players that die as a result of jereed are considered martyrs who died bravely in battle. While life-threatening injuries are more rare due to the rubber tips and light javelin, injury is always real possibility of jereed.
Today, jereed is mostly played for ceremonial purposes. Only a few areas still play the sport in Erzurum, Erzincan, Bayburt, Kars and Sogut still arrange the sport for special festivals or wedding celebrations. The sport has resurged in the past, as it did after it was banned due to increased violence and injury. As the sport begins to grow and more teams are organized, jereed could spread across the country of Turkey and possibly to other parts of the world as well.
Jereed is a sport rich in cultural history and traditional. The Turkish people have been masters of horseback competition centuries before many civilizations even understood what a horse was. The culture reveres and respects horses, which leads to relationships of mutual respect with the polished Turkish riders and their fine Arabian horses.
High esteem of horses is a hallmark for horse sports across the world. Those who understand the power, capabilities and affection horses are capable of are the people who choose to participate in sports like jereed. Horses are powerful, magnificent animals and the brave riders of jereed know that their horse is their strongest teammate.