To most people, the fact that buzkashi is played with a goat corpse instead of a ball is the single most fascinating part of the sport. Very special care is taken in its preparation for the game. Faridun Popalzai Khan, an Afghan expatriate who was a former buzkashi horse breeder, told me this about the goat:
(this is a hastily translated transcript of the recording of an interview - can you say that ten times fast - I did with him in 2007 in Fremont, CA)
Me: So, in buzkashi, how do you make the goat ready to be used? Is it butchered in a halaal way? I heard it gets soaked in water first to make its skin tough.
Khan: We always made the goat halaal, but you don't eat it. It's just that is the way all animals are slaughtered, ok? And then we must cut off the head. The head, some people, they eat it, but, not me. And the legs (are) cut off too, but you see how long the legs are is different to different places.
Me: So the head is cut off all the way, and the legs are just cut shorter?
Khan: Well yes, but they are sometimes longer.
(this led to a small tangent here due to confusion about "legs". There is no differentiation between "feet" and "legs" in Pashto without taking some care to specify which you mean. It was determined that normally the feet are cut off, and the amount of "leg" left on as a "handle" was largely a regional preference. In some places, the legs are off completely and the corpse must be grabbed up by the hair or tail alone, or simply manhandled up off the ground)
Me: So, how else is it prepared? Are the cut parts left open?
Khan: No, they are sewn up, and if the body is too light you will put sand inside before it is sewn. But then you must soak it, usually for one night before the buzkashi. The water is very cold.
Me: So it has to be heavy enough, and why is it soaked? To make the sand wet and heavy?
Khan: Well yes, but also to toughen up the skin like you thought. This is because, if a horse steps (on) it, or if it is dropped, and often because there will be (he made a grand physical gesture of tugging back and forth while saying:) HAH! HAH! HOA! HA!
Me: So, it's a very rough game, then? The rules say that there's no hitting the other players, but does nobody follow the rules?
Khan: If the rules were followed like that then who would wear the clothes?
(he is referring to the many layers of clothing worn by players, even in the dead of summer. Often special quilted garments and leather armguards are worn underneath regular attire.)
Me: Yes, well, well, what about deaths? How many are, killed, by the horses?
Khan: Well you see this happens, but if it did not then where would be the danger? Once you know I saw a mine explode a buzkashi game. Nobody was killed but a lot of horses and men were hurt and two horses were killed (murdered).
Me: Well, is it true that the best players are older?
Khan: Well yes, it takes twenty years to be a good buzkashi player.
The interview wandered away from buzkashi at this point.