The Afghan traditional sport of buzkashi.
It’s a game that’s fast, furious and fraught
It’s a game where players are left bloodied,
bruised and broken boned.
It’s a game which involves landing a headless
goat in a goal.
“It’s not however a game, where you’d
expect to see three times British champion
jockey, Richard Dunwoody.”
It’s one thing being used to sitting back
on the saddle but the skill of buzkashi rests
on the rider’s ability to slide out of it.
“I’m going to fall off.”
Richard’s taking lessons from one of the
best in the buzkashi business. Bahlawan Halim
is a champion rider from the north of Afghanistan
with forty years experience. He makes the
sport look all too easy.
So the idea of the game is to grab the carcass
of the goat or calf off the ground, hoof it
up to top of the pitch, round the flag and
back down to the goal.
“Just how physical it is to actually, we’re
picking up a sack that certainly wouldn’t
be as heavy as the carcass and also this is
a bit higher and I am struggling, really struggling,
to pick it up.”
Still he tries, and tries, again and again.
“To get down, just basically that low, that’s
the hard thing but within the game, you know
there’s just a scrum of them and they’re
just all piling in for it, you know it’s
a lot of money for the person who scores a
goal and really possession is everything,
you got to get hold of the carcass, so to
begin with there’ll be five or six guys
just attacking and you might get hold of one
leg, the strength of those guys is immense
you know, they are really really strong guys.”
These men start riding from around the age
of nine or ten. They play in two teams, working
with each other to block the opposing players
from scoring a goal.
Injuries are common place.
“I was riding the horse in the competition,
my competitor had the goat in his hand and
his horse kicked my leg and broke it.”
“I’ve broken my nose many times, my hand’s
been broken and so too has my shoulder.”
So really, it’s not the most suitable sport
for a former professional rider who retired
due to neck injury.
Bahlawan gives Richard’s performance a two
out of ten, saying he needs more practice
but there’s a match on between Kabul and
rival province Panshir.
Richard’s borrowed a horse though he’s
not really sure whose team he’s on.
Heavy snow doesn’t stop play here. These
riders have been going for three hours.
“You’ve got the whole of the opposing
side trying to get the carcass off you and
they will be two-handed leaning out the side
of their horses and run upside you just trying
to get if off your grasp away, away from your
grasp, it is a mad mad sport, it’s just
like rugby on horseback.”
This is Richard’s third trip to Afghanistan.
Since retiring from horse racing he’s become
an adventurer, trekking to the south pole,
walking a thousand miles in a thousand hours,
he even took part in the British TV show Strictly
But buzkashi posed a whole new challenge.
“That was an amazing experience. They say
it’s the roughest sport on horseback and
it certainly is. They get rightly stuck in
but the horses are brilliant, very very strong,
immensely strong but it was nice to see, from
within the game, how it all goes on. I imagine
there’s an immense amount of tactics, team
game you see some of the lads basically lead
their other team mates into the goal area
but it’s a great sport, it’s been great
fun, we’ve been here about three hours,
it’s the last play of the day, it’s a
thousand dollars worth.”
Despite Richard being renowned in racing for
falling off his horse, fortunately this time,
he stayed in the saddle.
Mel Preen in Kabul Afghanistan for the NATO