KYRGYZSTAN - LAND OF HORSES
Kyrgyzstan is an incredibly beautiful landlocked country with more than 93% covered by mountains (dominated by the Tien Shan range) and served by a plethora of rivers and four major high altitude lakes. The Kyrgyz are basically a nomadic people with proud traditions; the 5.5 million population of the country is comprised of 49% ethnic nomads, 35% Uzbeks, 15% Russian and 1% of a variety of Central Asian peoples – the country has one of the most ethnically diverse population inhabiting it. The locals and Uzbeks are Muslim in faith while the Russians are Christians. The nomads stay on the mountain slopes and other grazing fields in Yurts, which is a portable dwelling unit.
Horses are essential to the nomadic lifestyle, and life in the mountains and on the steppes would be impossible without them. Horses were used for everything from transportation to war, from payment to companionship. The horse is treated as a sacred animal among the locals. In the villages and mountains of Kyrgyzstan, babies learn to sit in the saddle before they can walk. This means that they have close contact with the animal world from infancy. As they grow up, Kyrgyz men master the skill of riding. Once a rider has developed a mutual understanding with his horse, he can go to more advanced techniques such as performing tricks on horseback. Horses play an integral part in Kyrgyz national games and competitions. The most famous Kyrgyz horse game is “Kok boru”, sometimes known as Ulak Tartysh or grey wolf. The name comes from the game’s origins. In the past, an attacking wolf would be thrown from the herd by the bravest and strongest of men. It evolved into a game and a goat carcass, minus head and hooves, was substituted for a wolf. The goal is to bring the carcass into an outlined area called the “mara”. The game is played with two teams of two or three people, who take their positions on opposite sides of the field as in football. At the signal, one of the team’s riders should have time to “grab” the carcass and carry it into the “gate” of the enemy within the allotted time, usually about fifteen minutes. But of course, it isn’t as easy as it sounds to pick up a 40kg carcass off the ground whilst remaining seated on horseback!