Trans Eurasia travel

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Contests & Games

Physical contests are massively popular in Kazakhstan; from wrestling in a ring to wrestling on horseback, from archery to various forms of horsemanship, all are popular at festivities. Horseracing and other competitions on horseback are without doubt the top-ranking national sports-unsurprising given the crucial role of the horse in Kazakh society. (The significance of the horse is also reflected in the Kazakh language, which has some 50 different words indicating the colour and shading of horses.)

A straightforward race, often involving yoting boys, is known as the bayga. Often without using saddles, the participants set off at breakneck speed on a course either 20km (tok bayga) or 30km (alaman bayga) long.

A very popular sport throughout Central Asia is kokpar (known further south as buzkasbi), a sort of horseback rugby where two teams of horsemen compete to grab and win possession of a headless goat carcass, then carry it and throw it across the opposition's goalline. It is played in a ferocious manner, and often the participants wear a padded helmet for protection against blows from both men and horses.

The kyz-kuu ("catch the girl") is a horserace in which women participate. Young men (dzhigits) pursue a young girl on horseback, who sets off with a small advantage. The winner is the first one to catch up with the girl and kiss her whilst still at a gallop. This game can also be one-on-one, but if the unlucky dzhigit does not manage to catch and kiss his target before the finishing line, the girl has the right to beat him with her whip all the way back to the starting line-much to the amusement of onlookers.