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Horse-riding traditions in Azerbaijan

15 February 2013 10:08 (UTC+04:00)
Horse-riding traditions in Azerbaijan

By Gulgiz Dadashova

"A brave man is known for his horse". This saying describes the sense of pride and love of the Azerbaijani people for horses.

Horses have been a matter of pride and dignity for the Azerbaijanis for centuries. Azerbaijani epic literature represents a number of legendary horses, such as Girat of national hero Koroghlu or Bozat of another hero, Gachag Nabi, which throughout history came to the rescue of their masters, keeping them away from danger.

Azerbaijan has long had favorable geographical and climatic conditions for animal breeding and equestrian development. The first presence of horses in this region dates back to 5,000 B.C.E. Later historical findings belong to the epoch of the ancient Azerbaijan states, such as Mannea, Media and Atropatene.

National Breeds

Horse breeding was and remains in the focus of the state, gaining more and more attention and care.

Two out of about 260 breeds of horses known in the world appeared in Azerbaijan. These are Karabakh and Dilboz (Gazakh) breeds.

Karabakh horses are a symbol of national heritage and pride.

The famed Karabakh horses, valued for their endurance in mountainous terrain, mild temper and dense chestnut color, are considered to be a national animal of Azerbaijan.

The Karabakh horses are regarded as the oldest horse breed in Asia and the Caucasus. The mountain-steppe racing horse is named after the geographical region where it was originally developed.

The Karabakh horse is a cross-breed of Akhal-Teke, Persian, Kabardin, Turkoman, and Arabian horses and stands out with what's been described as its "golden glow." The horse is not large, but measures on average about 1.5 meters. Karabakh horses are usually chestnut or bay with a golden tint. Less commonly, Karabakh horses can be gray or have white spots. The horses are also known for their exceptional speed. The Karabakh Foundation reports that in 2004, a Karabakh horse named Kishmish from the Agdam region set a world record by running 1,000 meters in 1 minute and 9 seconds.

During the 18th and 19th centuries this horse reached the peak of popularity and was widely exported, and it received awards at several exhibitions. In 1867, a Karabakh horse received a silver medal at an international show in Paris and in 1869 Karabakh horses won silver and bronze medals at an all-Russian exhibition.

Most recently, Azerbaijani Karabakh breed horses performed at the celebration of the jubilee of British Queen Elizabeth II's reign. The Royal Windsor Horse show featured over 1,000 performers and 550 horses from around the world. Among them were three Karabakh horses and a troupe of dancers, who brought an Azerbaijani spirit to the event. The presence of the breed was particularly apt, as a Karabakh stallion named Zaman was presented to Queen Elizabeth II in 1956.

Unfortunately, the number of Karabakh horses began to decline in the backdrop of the civil and ethnic wars in the Caucasus and Karabakh region. One of the reasons for the drop of their number was the Nagorno-Karabakh war that resulted in the occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory by Armenia; the horses were continually transferred from one place to another and the movement of pregnant mares led to miscarriages.

The government is running horse breeding programs to save the animal from extinction. Most Karabakh horses are now bred in Azerbaijan's Sheki region, and there are now less than 1,000 examples of the breed in the world.

Also called the Deliboz, the Dilboz is a domestic breed from Ganja-Gazakh and Sheki-Zagatala regions of Azerbaijan.

The Dilboz originated at the end of the 18th century and is a composite of local Azerbaijan stock crossed with Arabian and Turkish bloodlines. Their bloodlines are similar to the Karabakh horse and a descendant of the ancient Azerbaijan breed.

Tracing the history of the Deliboz is becoming all the more difficult because they were also called Azerbaijan horses. However, according to the International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds (University of Oklahoma Press; 1995) there was also a separate breed called Azerbaijan which may be extinct. The Deliboz is thought to be a descendant of the Azerbaijan horses.

The Deliboz is a strong and fast horse that is mostly grey or bay in color. Some Deliboz have Roman noses while others have straight profiles. They average 152 cm in height, which is the size of a tall pony, but they are strong enough to carry an adult man. They are also able to pull loads or carry riders in higher altitudes than many other breeds.

National equestrian games

The Equestrian Federation of Azerbaijan Republic (ARAF) was established in 1996 to follow the latest trends in equestrian sport, develop and support both classical and non-Olympic disciplines, and the national sport.

The federation operates equestrian centers and farms to encourage equestrian sports and horse-breeding. Azerbaijan takes part in international tournaments and has won a number of prizes. The Azerbaijani team will join horse races in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

At the same time, Azerbaijan will host an international polo tournament this September with the participation of racing teams from Argentina, Germany, the U.S. and Canada.

Notably, the federation takes care of national equestrian games, which could survive over the centuries as a favorite sport among youth.

The ARAF could restore some of them; it holds annual tournaments of "chovgan", "sur papaq", "papaq" and riding wrestling.

Chovgan is an ancient sporting team game. It can be called the ancestor of the modern polo game.

There are two teams, consisting of five to six players each plus one odd player. If there are five players in the team, three of them act as attackers and two as fullbacks. And if there are six players, three of them act as attackers, two as fullbacks and one as a halfback. Regardless of the composition of the team there is no goalkeeper. The ball can be stopped while in movement by any part of the player's body but strikes must be done only with a special club.

Duration of the game is 30 minutes (two 15-minute half-times). An amateur game lasts 20 minutes (10+10). The break-time is 10 minutes, after which the teams change the ends.

In case of a draw, extra-time follows (no more than 8 minutes) and penalty kicks may follow. If the score is still a draw, the winner is determined by drawing lots.

In the game called sur papaq, there are two teams consisting of 4-8 players each. The game starts from the centre of the field and lasts 20 minutes (10 in each half-time). If the winner isn't determined by the end of the game, 10 minutes (5+5) of extra time may follow. If the score is a draw after extra-time, each team plays out 5 penalty kicks. If it's still a draw, the winner is determined by drawing lots.

Papaq game can be interesting for any person riding a horse. It can be both an individual and a team game. The purpose of the game is to take the opponent's hat (papaq) off. The player receives a point if he got two opponent hats. The game lasts 20 minutes (10+10) plus 5 minutes for a break. The team which has more rival hats (papaq) wins. In case of a draw 5 additional minutes can be given. By the end of the extra-time the game can finish in a draw. The winner is not determined by drawing lots.

Riding wrestling can be both an individual and team game. Each team consists of five players plus one odd player. All the players should be in the same weight category and be of the same height. Moreover, all the participants should be riders of the same level. The purpose of the game is to drive the opponent back in 5 minutes. Two participants should stay at the opposite sides of the central circle and wait for the referee's signal to start the game. If the winner can't be determined after 5 minutes of the game, extra 3 minutes may follow. In case the game ends in a draw after the extra-time, the jury names the most active player as the winner.

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