Mongolia – the Ancient Game of “Kokpar”

While traveling in the spectacular Altai mountain range of Mongolia, home of the Eagle Hunters, we came across a Nomad Festival.

The men were playing a sport I had never seen before called Kokpar. This is a traditional Mongolian nomadic game that is actually “tug-of-war with a goat carcass while on horseback.”

It was incredible to watch the strength of these young men as they competed for the beheaded goat. I was told Genghis Khan made this game up as an exercise to strengthen the legs of his soldiers for war.

Horses play a large role in daily life of the Mongolian Nomads. “A Mongolian without a horse is like a bird without the wings,” said Elizabeth Kendall, who travelled through Mongolia in 1911.

Mongolian Nomads have long been considered to be some of the best horsemen in the world. During the time of Genghis Khan, Mongol horse archers were capable of feats such as sliding down the side of their horse to shield their body from enemy arrows, while simultaneously holding their bow under the horse’s chin and returning fire, all at full gallop.

Mongol horses are best known for their role as war steeds of Genghis Khan, who is reputed to have said “It is easy to conquer the world from the back of a horse.”

I hope you find this as impressive as I did.

Two men struggle for the goat carcass on horses

Two men have a tug of war with a goat carcass

Man in traditional dress is winning the pull

Man in modern dress loses the goat carcass

Man in traditional dress leans back with the goat carcass

Kokpar players are watched by men on motorbikes

Man in pink shirt has goat

Man throws goat carcass as men on motorbikes watch

Man in pink shirt on horse

Two Kokpar players struggle for the goat

Mongolian holds on to goat

Two players pull at goat, one man almost falling off horse

Two men struggling for the goat

Two men struggle for goat, one man almost off his horse

Focus on man with goat, horse pulling hard away from other player


  1. The images really tell the story; tenacity, balance, acrobats on horses, hardiness. Always terrific to learn about a new culture. Bravissimo Michele Z.

  2. I love learning about other cultures. It helps me appreciate that the acceptance of differences between us is what makes each of us stronger and better people. You bring that to me with your travels.

  3. Michele,
    Wonderful photos. You really capture the essence of the Mongolian Nomads sport , plus
    the history. Thanks for sharing your adventures
    &. photos with us.

  4. Michele
    Once again you have achieved the unbelievable
    movement, emotion, strength and beauty through your eye of the camera! Through your eye we see muscular strength of the man along with his horse and their choreography to achieve their goal. You have also showed us the beauty of the landscape and it’s vastness thank you for taking us on your journey through your talent .

  5. Wonderful Michele. Must have been challenging to capture. I watched a horse-race during Nadam in Mongolia and was also impressed with the horsemanship of the riders, but this is truly spectacular.

  6. You actually make it seem really easy together with your
    presentation but I find this topic to be really something
    which I believe I would by no means understand.

    It seems too complicated and very wide for me. I’m taking a look forward for
    your next submit, I’ll try to get the cling of it!

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