News ID: 209708
Published: 0808 GMT February 09, 2018

Chogan, an ancient Iranian horseback game

Chogan, an ancient Iranian horseback game

Iranians have played Chogan (Polo) as an entertaining horseback game since almost 2,500 years ago. It’s an amazing game that has attracted the attention of people throughout history. Several well-known writers have created stories and poems about Chogan. Ferdowsi and Roudaki have mentioned this Iranian horseback game in their poems.

During the game, entertainers play special pieces of music and songs using particular musical instruments. Chogan is part of Iranian intangible cultural heritage inscribed by UNESCO, wrote.





Chogan was first played during the Achaemenian Era in Iran. As Achaemenians extended their borders far and wide, this ancient Iranian game found its way to other countries too.

It dates back to centuries before Jesus Christ (PBUH) when it was quite popular among kings, rulers, wealthy people and those who could afford it as an entertaining sports. They also held horseback races. One of the favorite pastimes of the rulers was Chogan.

Of course, it was played differently at the time. Horse riding was more of a military and warfare practice. Therefore, this entertainment included horses’ military-style marching and riding war horses. As time passed, Chogan transformed into the style we knowtoday.

‘Kar-Namag i Ardashir i Pabagan’, is a middle Persian prose tale written in the Sassanian Era. It narrates the story of Ardeshir I, the founder of this dynasty. It’s the first written document that mentions Chogan as an Iranian game.

After the Mongols had invaded Iran, they learned Iranian arts and culture, including Chogan, and promoted it all across their empire. This created interest in this entertaining game as a unique amusing competition in all East Asian countries.

The history of Chogan doesn’t end with the Mongol Era. We have observed traces of it going back to the Safavid Era and the time when Shah Abbas I ruled over Iran. When he settled in his new capital city, Isfahan, he ordered Naqsh-e Jahan Square to be built for playing Chogan.

When Indian and British officers were part of the foreign ruling systems in Iran, they learned this Iranian game and its rules and regulations. Later, they conveyed the skills to their countries. So, in 1860, polo was played for the first time in England.

The popularity of Chogan in the UK was a prelude for its expansion further to the US. In American continent, this intangible cultural heritage of Iranians was played in Latin American countries attracting lots of fans.

Today, all countries are familiar with Chogan, which is known as polo. Golf and hockey have been inspired by this entertaining game of ancient Iranians. Some rich people ride on elephants instead of horses while playing Chogan.





Riders and the horses must be both ready for the game. It’s a strategic game that requires plenty of readiness. Players were not ordinary horse riders and horses were not just any horses. They could even go to war easily.

Today, in Chogan, ponies are full-sized horses used for this traditional Iranian game. In Persian, they are referred to simply as Chogan horses. They should be equipped with safety gears to be ready for the races. They are supposed to have special leg wraps to ensure protection against the mallets. The line attached to the curb bit must be adjusted in a comfortable and free way so that ponies can be easily levered.

Horse riders must have special safety helmets, gloves, whip, riding boots, knee pads, elbow pads, and Chogan outfits.

The players are supposed to be already remarkably skillful as horse riders. Each player holds a special long-handled wooden mallet with which he tries to lead the ball during the game. This mallet is 129cm long and is attached to another piece, 20-25cm perpendicularly. Polo mallet stick is generally made of bamboo.

Chogan ball is hard and a bit larger than tennis ball. It’s called ‘Gooy’. Its diameter is approximately 25cm and weighs around 140 grams.



Chogan game and polo field


Some of the most important ones are:

Dimension of Chogan field: 274 meters by 145 meters

Goal post length: Seven meters

Number of players at each team: Four players:

No.1 is offense-oriented one who must try to score goals against the other team.

No.2 is both offense-oriented and defense-oriented who must play both roles.

No.3 is the tactical leader who creates opportunities. He changes the defense cases to offense.

 No.4 is the goal keeper who is the primary defense player.

Duration: The entire game is divided into two half-times. The game lasts six periods of seven minutes. Each time period is called a ‘Chukka’ or ‘Chukker’. The interesting point is that the Persian word ‘Chukker’ was the word used for the servants who took care of horses in such resting intervals. Today, Iranians use this work to show they’re ready to serve others out of their loving hearts or free wills.

Rest period: The players of each team need three minutes of rest between two Chukkas. Between two half-times, they rest for five minutes.

Rule and regulations: As in other sports, Chogan also has its own rules. It applies both to the equipment as well as playing.

This refreshing Iranian game requires horse riders to divide into two teams. Each team gets on the horseback and tries to score more goals against the opposite team.

To begin with the game, each team’s players stay on horsebacks in a row behind the middle line in the middle of the field. Then, the referee throws the ball between them from approximately 6.5 meters away for them to start the game. Players start riding toward the ball to get control over it and launch a tactical offense toward the opponent’s goal post. If there’s foul during the game or it’s time for the rest between two Chukkas, the game is stopped for a brief pause.

If anything happens for the ponies or a pony is hurt, the game is halted and the rider uses another horse to continue the game.

As Chogan is an exciting game requiring lots of physical activities, horses get tired quickly. Therefore, tired horses should be substituted from time to time. So, each rider uses more than one horse during the race.


Conditions in Iran today


As Chogan is an expensive game, it’s not very popular in Iran, but there’s a Polo Federation of Iran that promotes this sport. So, sports authorities pay more attention to it and there’s a hope it gains further popularity among all Iran games.

However, as an intangible cultural heritage of Iranians, Chogan is well-known and all Iranians are proud of it.

Students read about it in Persian literate and learn about it in various arts specially painting.

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