Kazakhistan and Horse Culture

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Nearly every nation has a particular animal that was influential in its history. The influential animal in Kazakh history was the horse. This essay intends to answer the question of what significance the horse carries in Kazakh culture. Throughout history, Kazakh people have used horses for various purposes, including entertainment, waging wars, obtaining food, assisting in nomadic life, and strengthening national unity.


History of Kazakh Horse Culture

Tribes and Horses

Horses were first bred in Kazakhstan. Horses in Kazakhstan emerged six thousand years ago. All tribes that made up modern Kazakhstan were involved in horse breeding, and their continuity depended on the horses. Wars that Kazakh tribes raged throughout history would be impossible to rage in the absence of horses (Duman and Kulzira).

Origin of Horse Breeding

Duman and Kulzira state that the settlement of Botay is the oldest place in the world that bred horses. The design of one of the first bridles was found in this town. The researchers also discovered traces of horse milk in antique cups in Botay. Also near Botay, there is a town called Atbasar. Atbasar means “to ride on horseback” (Duman and Kulzira).

Nomadism’s Decline

According to Duman and Kulzira, Nomadism started to decline in the nineteenth century. At that time, The Russian Empire was in power. The Russian Empire attempted some territory-administrative reforms but mismanaged them because it lacked knowledge about the nomadic culture and lifestyle. This harmed Nomadism. Later in the USSR, horse breeding took a giant hit, which took years to recover. The number of horses decreased by nearly 3 million in 80 years when USSR was in control. USSR damaged Kazakh national identity and depersonalized Kazakhstan by harming the horse culture (Duman and Kulzira).

Current State of Horse Breeding

Some specialist cattle-breeding farms emerged, and elite horse breeding has grown recently. According to the official data, there are approximately 1.5 million horses in Kazakhstan today. The annual growth of horses in modern Kazakhstan ranges from 4 to 8 percent (Duman and Kulzira).


Usage of Horses in Kazakh Mythology and Beliefs

Horses are born from the wind

Horses have a critical role in Kazakh mythology and beliefs. According to the article “Language and Identity in Kazakh Horse Culture” by Guldana Sarbassova, horses are vital in Kazakh Beliefs and Mythology. Kazakh people believe horses are “born from the wind.” A Kazakh proverb can be used to support this claim. It goes by “jilki – jelden, siyir – sudan, tuye – shölden, eshki – tastan, koy – peyishten jaralgan”, which corresponds to the meaning “the horse born from wind, cow from water, camel from desert, goat from stone and the sheep from paradise” (Sarbassova 234).

Kambar Ata and the Horse

A Kazakh tale goes by that Kambar Ata, the holy guide of the horse, was the one that taught Kazakh how to make koumiss (horse milk). Kambar Ata, besides being the holy protector and guide of the horse, is a sacred man in Kazakh belief and is deeply associated with the devotion of the horse (Sarbassova 235).

Horse Herders

The Kazakh society highly respects horse herders. Still, horse herders are deemed more substantial than shepherds in modern Kazakh society. Historically, horse herders used to be involved in all aspects of society, would eat dinner with the wealthy, and would be honored with a special spot in a room. This place was called Tör, which was the spot opposite the entryway of a room. The daughters of wealthy families were given to horse herders for marriage (Sarbassova 235).

Horse and Death

The Kazakh buried deceased men alongside their horses. In the twentieth century, after somebody died, Kazakh had a ritual of killing around 10 to 100 horses and giving the meat to friends, family, and neighbors for them to eat. This tradition still exists today. Kazakh kill one or two horses after one’s death (Sarbassova 235).


Horse as an Assistant to the Kazakh


The Kazakh always had the companionship and assistance of the horses. They used the horse for transportation, farming, and building materials. Nomadic lifestyle made horses necessary. Kazakh people start learning how to ride horses at the age of 3, and at age five or seven, Kazakh children are given a horse. Therefore, they are excellent riders. Horses were used as the primary vehicles of transportation since they were fast (Kurylev). They provided mobility and rapidity (Duman and Kulzira). Horses were also used to help the Kazakh in agriculture, especially farming (“Kazakhstan”). Horse hair was used to build robust ropes (Kurylev).


Usage of Horses in Kazakh Festivals

Usage of Horses in Racing

Horses were used for entertainment purposes in festivals by the Kazakh. There are a lot of different horse races in Kazakh culture. Some examples are Audaryspak and Kyz Kuu. In Audaryspak, two riders fight while riding their horses, trying to push each other down from the horse. Whoever gets pushed down the horse wins. In Kyz Kuu, a man chases a girl on a horse. If he catches her before she passes the finish line, he may kiss her. If he fails, the girl may whip him (“Horse Culture”).

Ceremonies Involving Horses

Biye baylau is “the ancient first milking rite encompassing the separation of mares and foals from the herds, milking the mares and celebrating with songs, dances and games”. Ayghyr kosu is “a rite for adjoining stallions in herds to commence a new breeding season” . Kymyz muryndyk is a ceremony that celebrates the start of the production season of koumiss. Giving koumiss to other people also takes place in this ceremony (“Horse Culture”).


Usage of Horses as a Food Source

Horse Meat

Horses are considered essential food sources in Kazakh culture. The most prominent examples of these are horse meat and horse milk, which is also called koumiss. Horse meat is an important source of food for the Kazakh. According to the article “Horse in an eternal companion of the Kazakh” by Aitmagambetov Duman and Iskakova Kulzira, the original name for horse meat is et (Duman and Kulzira). The Kazakh frequently ate horse meat because it was succulent and nutritious (Kurylev). There is a famous Kazakh cuisine called Beshparmak. It is “boiled meat on the bone served over noodles and covered in a meat broth called souppa.” The meat is made from horses and served in great portions. Every respective segment of the horse corresponds to various characteristics such as wisdom, youth, and strength (“Kazakhstan”). The cuisine Beshparmak originally came to Kazakhstan with Russian migrants. A total of 1035 thousand tonnes of horse meat is produced every year globally. While Mexico is the leading producer of horse meat, Kazakhstan is the third-largest producer (Duman and Kulzira).

##Koumiss (Horse Milk) Horse milk is a noteworthy drink in Kazakh culture. Koumiss is a horse’s milk. It is fermented before drinking. Koumiss is an ancient drink tracing back to the nomadic era of the Kazakh people. It is provided for special occurrences. Also, a considerable amount of Central Asian society believes the drink is remedial (“Kazakhstan”). Drinking koumiss is advised for the treatment of neurasthenia, which is a condition in the central nervous system (Duman and Kulzira).


Usage of Horse Color

White Mare and its Milk

The colors of horses were also meaningful in Kazakh culture, with different colors symbolizing different concepts. sacredness and purity. In the past, there was a Kazakh tradition. Before marriage, if the bride was not a virgin, she would be put on horseback and forced to return home. But if the people admired the bride, she would be allowed to be washed in a white mare’s milk. This would allow her to get rid of her sins and marry her partner (Sarbassova 237). There is a Kazakh proverb that goes by aieldin kunasi tek boz bienin sutine tusse gana ketedi, which translates to “the sins of a girl not a virgin can only be washed away and forgiven after she bathes in white mare’s milk” (qtd. in Sarbassova 237). Not just brides, all the people were able to bathe in a white mare’s milk and get rid of all their sins. The process of a person bathing in a mare’s milk and getting rid of all the sins he or she has is only valid if the mare that provides the milk is white. Riding white horses was advantageous for Kazakh because white horses could be seen easily at night. A white mare’s milk also served medicinal purposes. There was a belief that if somebody suffered from a disease or mourned, that person could wash himself or herself in a white mare’s milk and recover from the disease (Sarbassova 237). In a noteworthy Turkic epic, a hero called Alpamys would make his parents wash themselves in a white mare’s milk since the parents were severely worried about their child when he was on the battlefield (Sarbassova 237-238). There was also an old Kazakh ritual that made people kill a white horse as a sacrifice when soldiers were about to go to war. This sacrifice was believed to bring soldiers good luck (Sarbassova 238).

Naming Directions

Horse colors were also used in naming directions. “The East was blue, the South was red, the West was white, and the North was black” (qtd. in Sarbassova 238). Kul Tigin, the General of the Second Turkic Khaganate, changed horses according to the geographical direction in which he rode his horse to battle to match his horse color to the color of the direction (Sarbassova 238).

Army Organization and Structure

Mete Khan, the King of the Hunnic Empire, organized his army’s mounted units’ formation according to the colors of the horses (Sarbassova 238-239). He also used horse colors to create his battle tactics (Sarbassova 239).


Usage of Horses in the Kazakh Language in the Form of Everyday Expressions

Since the importance of horses in Kazakh culture is tremendous, horses also affected the Kazakh language. Some expressions can be given as examples. According to Sarbassova, the expression biye sauim vakit corresponds to roughly 30 minutes, which is the time spent milking a horse. This expression was used to indicate the time before the metric system came to Kazakhstan. Sarbassova stated that the expression biye baylar kez corresponds to just about May, in the spring. It comes from a time in spring when Kazakh give their horses exceptional care and food. The purpose of this exceptional care is to get as much of the horse milk (koumiss) as possible.Sarbassova explains that the expression at shaptirim jer corresponds to nearly 25 kilometers, which is the horse’s capacity to run before it gets exhausted. There is also the expression kulin shaptirim jer, which corresponds to nearly 10 kilometers, which is the capacity of a young horse to run before it gets exhausted. These expressions were used to indicate distance before the metric system came to Kazakhstan (Sarbassova 240).

Usage of Horses in Kazakh National Identity

Horses in National Identity

Horses have a crucial place in the Kazakh National identity. They are featured in many music videos, movies, artwork, and the national emblem. They are also loyal and significant companions to Kazakh. After gaining independence from the USSR, the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, wanted to construct Kazakh nationalism. He enforced a Kazakhisation policy all around the country. The horse was necessary for this policy and functioned as a national symbol. Kazakh movies, and music videos, all had the horse component present. Kazakhs’ past, the old nomadic life, was subject to romanticization in the media. Sentimentally strong music videos often referenced the old nomadic life, in which the producers painted the Kazakh on horseback (Sarbassova 232). Usually, Kazakh artwork included the figure of a horse (Sarbassova 233). The Republic of Kazakhstan’s national emblem also features two mythological horses with golden wings and horns. The picture of a horse represents characteristics such as bravery, intellect, and perseverance. Their wings represent the Kazakh desire to create a powerful and wealthy nation (Sarbassova 236).

Horses as Companions

Horses were Kazakh’s reliable companions. Horses assisted Kazakh in their economic and military struggles. Unlike horses in other cultures, Kazakh have a deep connection with horses besides using them for transportation and games (Sarbassova 234).



In conclusion, this essay explains the importance of horses in Kazakh culture. In eight different titles, the importance of horses was thoroughly discussed. From Kazakh national identity to using horses for entertainment, horses are nearly everywhere in Kazakh culture. This is not a surprising fact since the Kazakh and horses lived together for centuries. Horses earned their place in Kazakh culture, and there is no doubt that they will continue to remain important in Kazakh culture.


Works Cited

  • Duman, Aitmagambetov, and Iskakova Kulzira. “Horse in an eternal companion of the Kazakh.” Il Nodo di Gordio, 13 Mar. 2013, Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.

  • “Horse Culture.” Embassy of Kazakhstan in Washington, D.C., Embassy of Kazakhstan, Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.

  • “Kazakhstan.” Countries and Their Cultures, Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.

  • Kurylev, Vadim Petrovich. “Culture Summary: Kazakh.” Human Relations Area Files, 2011, Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.

  • Sarbassova, Guldana. “Language and Identity in Kazakh Horse Culture.” Journal of Social Sciences of Turkic World, vol. 75, Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.