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Buzkashi – strange game with strange rules

Buzkashi or Kok-boru or Oglak Tartis is a traditional Central Asian team sport played on horseback in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Riders usually wear heavy clothing and head protection to protect themselves against other players’ whips and boots. Games can last for several days, and the winning team receives a prize.

The game consists of two main forms: Tudabarai and Qarajai. Tudabarai is considered to be the simpler form of the game. In this version, the goal is simply to grab the calf and move in any direction until clear of the other players. In Qarajai, players must carry the carcass around a flag or marker at one end of the field, then throw it into a scoring circle (the “Circle of Justice”) at the other end. The riders will carry a whip, often in their teeth, to fend off opposing horses and riders.

photos by Majid Saeedi

The calf in a Buzkashi game is normally beheaded and disemboweled and has its limbs cut off at the knees. It is then soaked in cold water for 24 hours before play to toughen it. Occasionally sand is packed into the carcass to give it extra weight. Players may not strap the calf to their bodies or saddles. Though a goat is used when no calf is available, a calf is less likely to disintegrate during the game.


Serious Buzkashi players train intensively for years, and many of the masters  are over forty years old. Playing well also requires specially trained horses that know to stop still when a rider is thrown and to gallop forcefully when their rider gets hold of the calf. These horses can sell today for as much as US$10,000-15,000.

Farzana Wahidy

A similar game is “kokpar”, a traditional Kazakh game played on horseback in which two teams of players compete to carry a headless goat carcass into a goal.


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