Photographer: Alain Schroeder
Title: Dead Goat Polo
Location: Kyrgyzstan
Period: 03/2020 - 12/2020
Category: Spot News

Trying to outrun your opponents with a headless goat wedged between your leg and your horse might not be your idea of a fun game but in Kyrgyzstan, Kok Boru is the national sport. Dead Goat Polo, as some refer to it, looks more like cavalier rugby. Generally divided into two teams of five (and hundreds or more in a freestyle variant called Alaman-Ulak), fearless men on horseback race from one end of the field to the other chasing the rider with possession trying to prevent him from scoring a point by heaving the 20 kg body into the tai kazan (goal) at either end. 

Only stallions are used in this game because they are naturally anti-social and eager to fight off rivals. The players train their horses to muscle out other horses in the pack while they themselves wrestle each other to snatch the goat and gallop toward the goal, slamming into the rubber tires that encircle the meter-high mound. 

Most villages throughout the country have a playing field, some have official stadiums. Professional teams play tournaments which culminate in the national championships that take place during the festivities surrounding Nowruz on March 21st when the Kyrgyz nation celebrates the beginning of spring. This year (2020), the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has halted large public gatherings but unofficial games continue to be organized in many villages. Players share the cost of the goat or wealthier citizens sponsor games with prizes to celebrate life events, inspire good fortune or simply for fun, and the winning team always takes home the goat for a post game feast. The origins of this legendary game lie somewhere between nomads hunting or defending their livestock against predatory wolves, to men and horses honing their fighting skills. Boys from the age of 4 - 5 learn to play on donkeys and instead of a goat, they throw around a much lighter pillow made of goatskin stuffed with hay. The new generation is happy to continue this rough-and-tumble game.



Dead Goat Polo 1

A game of Kok Boru in the village of Taldy-Bulak Breaking away from the pack a rider races toward the tai kazan goal then stops abruptly within a few meters and hurls the 20 kg carcass into the air The sheer power and momentum generated propel the goat into the goal

Dead Goat Polo 2

Kyzart village Naryn region Drone view of a Kok Boru playing field and the circular goal or tai kazan Clouds of dust and the white carcass indicate that a player has just scored by landing the goat in the goal The tai kazan one at each end of the field is 4 4 meters in diameter and 1 2 meters high surrounded by tires to cushion the impact of the horses that are trained to slam into them

Dead Goat Polo 3

A two-day tournament in Sovietskoe Karakol region that brought together nine teams ends with an award ceremony Perched on their horses exhausted and covered in mud after five hours of play two riders whose shirts display the symbol of Kok Boru wait to receive their trophies br

Dead Goat Polo 4

The village of Ken Aral 15 km west of the town of Talas On a plateau framed by mountains riders thunder across the playing field kicking up clouds of dust as they battle for an opportunity to score a goal in a rough-and-tumble game of Kok Boru br

Dead Goat Polo 5

In the village of Kok Kashat 30 km east of Talas a group of children hone their Kok Boru skills Boys start learning the game as early as five years old but instead of horses they ride donkeys and play with a goatskin pillow stuffed with hay that weighs about 2 kg Here a young rider lifts the imitation goat from the ground br

Dead Goat Polo 6

Tash Kya village near Karakol The tai kazan one at each end of the field is 4 4 meters in diameter and 1 2 meters high surrounded by tires to cushion the impact of the horses that are trained to slam into them There are many strategies to prevent scoring points and both men and horses wrestle at the edge of the goal pulling the carcass in all directions

Dead Goat Polo 7

A game of Kok Boru in the village of Sovietkoe 40 km from Karakol Holding a kamchy horsewhip between his teeth a rider has snatched the heavy carcass off the ground and races across the snow-covered field toward the tai kazan goal chased by an opposing player who loses his balance trying to grab the goat br

Dead Goat Polo 8

A game of Kok Boru in the village of Sovietkoe in the region of Karakol The participants congratulate each other at the end of a particularly tough semi-final game played in -7 C The light from behind captures the steam rising off the horses backs and blowing through their flared nostrils Nine teams participated in a two-day tournament organized in honor of Azamat a renowned trainer from the village of Sovietkoe br

Dead Goat Polo 9

A game of Kok Boru organized by a man named Tolik to celebrate his 60th birthday near the village of Arslanbob At an altitude of 1900 meters on a snow-covered field in the shadow of Brown Hill Mountain 2640 meters The surrounding mountains are camouflaged by thick fog creating a scene reminiscent of a 16th century Flemish winter landscape painting br

Dead Goat Polo 10

In the village of Uzgen Osh region more than 170 horses in this picture and men wearing the classic Soviet tank hat or a Kyrgyz tebetei hat push and shove each other with dexterity and endurance in fearless combat as they fight for possession of a young 60 kg bull Itin Bietov Jildizbek a wealthy local man has organized a massive game of Alaman-Ulak to celebrate the 13th birthday of his son Cherniaz Thousands of riders have come to compete for the prizes he is offering throughout the day 10 horses 10 yaks 10 camels and the grand prize of the final game a Lada brand car

Dead Goat Polo 11

In the village of Kyzyl-Oy ten riders gather for the rituals before the start of a game The goat is decapitated and its hooves removed in preparation for play In the foreground a man wearing a kalpak a typical Kyrgyz felt hat leads the group in the traditional prayer

Dead Goat Polo 12

A game of Kok Boru in the village of Taldy-Bulak A rider throws the goat into the tai kazan goal The men share great respect for the sacrificed animal despite the roughness of the action The origins of this legendary game lie somewhere between nomads hunting or defending their livestock against predatory wolves to men and horses honing their fighting skills