To the Kyrgyz, a horse is a prized possession, and horsemanship a much-prized skill. Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that among the most popular national pastimes, or sports are contests on horseback. Kyrgyz horses possess such qualities as lightness and good co-ordination (essential in the mountains). They are exceptionally hearty, will eat almost anything, and are not susceptible to sudden changes of weather. They can endure long-distance marches with a rider. For these reasons Kyrgyz ponies were prized possessions even further afield in Russia and Europe in the past.
Long-Distance Races "At Chabysh"
Long-distance races are an ancient and widespread sport. Fast and hearty horses capable of enduring long-distance are chosen for the race. Experienced trainers prepare yearlings for a race called tai chabysh and one-and-a-half year old foals run in the kunan chabysh race. When the animals are three years old they are entered into the competitions proper. Previously At-chabysh races were held on different occasions, usually in connection with some holiday or commemorative festival. The winner (or its owner) was given some jewelry and cattle as a reward. Horses of various breeds and ages took part in the races. Each trainer had his own methods of preparing the racer for the competition. The distance raced was 53 versts, later on 100 km. Moreover the riders were quite often boys of ten to thirteen years of age, sometimes riding without a saddle. According to current rules, however, only horses three years old and older of any breed are admitted to the races. And no-one under thirteen is allowed to particpate. The distance raced ranges from four to fifty kilometers.
Pacer's Races "“Dzorgosalysh"
These races are run over shorter distances where speed and not stamina is the crucial element. Experts consider dzorgo to be a great merit of a horse. These horses demonstrate not only speed but also gracefulness. The Kyrgyz people have many proverbs and sayings related to the pacer, such as: "Don't let your horse run beside a pacer."
“Ulak tartysh" or "Kok-bory"
Wrestling on horseback for a goat's carcass, 'ulak tartysh' or 'kok-bory' means ‘grey wolf.
Apparently, the game originally developed in antiquity when herds of cattle grazed in the steppes and mountains all year round, exposed to possible attacks by wolves.
Later on when the people led a more settled life kok-bory was replaced by an organized sport - ulak-tartysh.
There are two teams, consisting of an equal number of riders (in formal competitions it is four). The playing ground is 300m by 150m. The opposite sides of this area, marked with flags, present symbolically the ‘gates' or ‘goals’. In the center of the playing ground a carcass of a goat, weighing on an average of 30-40 kilograms, is placed. Typically, agame lasts fifteen minutes although competition games are divided into three parts of twenty minutes each . The objective of the game is to seize the goat's carcass and deliver it into the gates of the contesting team.
The players are allowed to pick up the carcass from any place within the limits of the field, take it from their rivals, pass or fling it over to their partners, carry it pressed to the horse's side or suspended between the horse's legs.
During the course of the game some unlikely, unforeseen and ad hoc alliances may be formed among the participants. These alliances are usually short-lived, dissolving in the rapid fluidity of the competition as quickly as they are established. So brothers may be seen vying for the honor of becoming the new champion, whilst old rivals may yom forces and help each other. All this fosters fastthinking teamwork that is absolutely vital under actual combat conditions, (which the game very realistically simulates).
The rules forbid rearing the horse, making your horse collide with a rival's at a high speed, seizing the rivals horse by the bridle, taking the reins off it, including blows with a whip, or shouting or entering into conversation with one's opponent
Wrestling on Horseback "Oodarysh" Wrestling on horseback is also a popular sport. Two riders each try to pull their opponent off his horse. They are allowed to throw the rival, together with his horse, to the ground.
Chasing After the Bride "Kyz - Kuumai"
in the old days this game was a part of the wedding ritual. According to the rules the bride was given the best racer and she was entitled to a head start on her horse that began the race. The bridegroom set out in oursuit to catch up with her, in this way proving his love and right to marry her. Being at a disadvantage with the slower horse the bridegroom sometimes failed to catch up with his fiancee. Yet, although she might beat him with her kamchi (or horsewhip) she did not reject him and the wedding would be held all the same. At present this traditional folk game is usually held during holidays for example in the green meadows of high mountain pastures, (jailoo) or on acecourses.
Girls and young women's races “Kyz dzharysh"
A Kyrgyz woman learns to ride a horse in her childhood in the highlands, where there are severe winters and deep snows, where flocks of sheep are driven up and down steep slopes of mountains or across turbulent foaming rivers, and where one cannot do without a horse.
It is possible to make out the difference between the girl and women riders by their headdresses. Girls put on hats with a wide marten trimming while young women wear pretty kerchiefs.
Shooting at the target while galloping “Jumby Atmai"
Jumby in Kyrgyz means an ingot of silver or other jewelry on a thread tied to an inclined pole. The contestant has to break the thread with a shot and bring the jumby down. Originally the contestant used a bow and arrow that was replaced by firearms over the course of time.
Besides these games there are several others, such as picking up coins from the ground while galloping (tyin enmei), falconry on horseback (with falcons or eagles) for foxes, wolves and pheasants, and wrestling.
The Chaban (Shepherd) Festival
A gathering of farmers and herdsmen for games. The location and timing tends to vary from year to year depending upon harvest and other work requirements. Sometimes called a "Kyrgyz Rodeo".