Nomadic Horse Games in Kyrgyzstan

Riding a horse © Tynchtyk Turdaliev

Prevalent in Kyrgyzstan, the horse symbolizes nomadic culture. The country’s folk literature reflects how the Kyrgyz people harmoniously live with the animal. For example, in Manas, the epic poem, the hero was inseparable from his horse, Ak-Kula, in every battle he fought. The deep association of the Kyrgyz with horses is embodied in nomadic horse games.

Girl riding a horse © Tynchtyk Turdaliev

Occurring in summertime, nomadic horse games are usually played by men. These games are a depiction of spectacular skills and manliness. Men participating in these games demonstrate excellence in horse riding, prompt reaction, agility, and strength. There is a significant number of horse games in Kyrgyzstan collectively perceived as a traditional sport. Among the most important of these games is kok boru. Also known as ulak tartysh, it is a famous nomad horse game historically believed to train young men to be fearless. The game consists of two teams on horseback, where players have to throw a dead animal (ulak or sheep) to the opponent’s goal. The team with the most goals wins the game. Another game, at chabyish, is a long-distance horse-racing competition. Depending on the distance and age of horse, this game as classified as kunan chabysh, zhorgo salysh, or byshty zhorgo. Wrestling is also incorporated in nomadic horse games. Er enish is a good example of this. Requiring great stamina, this game consists of two horsemen who attempt to push each other off each other’s horse. The first to touch the ground loses.

© National Commission of the Kyrgyz Republic for UNESCO

To preserve and develop these traditional games of nomadic culture, the Republic of Kyrgyzstan initiated the World Nomad Games in 2012. The First World Nomad Games were held in 2014 in the Issyk-Kul Oblast of Kyrgyzstan. Around nineteen countries participated in the nomad games competitions. The Second Nomad Games were held in 2016, where sixty-two countries participated in twenty-six different nomadic sports. The Third World Nomad Games will take place this year, from 2 to 8 September in Cholpon-Ata, Issyk-Kul Oblast, Kyrgyzstan. For this year, around seventy-seven countries are expected to participate. The nomadic horse games mentioned in this article will be included in the program.

Horse games of Kyrgyzstan