Korean Folk Game ― Horse Riding

Horse riding is a game in which riders compete on how fast they run or how skilfully they perform acrobatic acts on running horses.

Ancient Koreans, who regarded speed as the most important merit of a horse, raised native horses in large numbers suited to the topographical conditions of our country with many steep mountains. One of them was Kwahama of Ancient Korea. Kwahama was given the name because it was short enough (about one metre) to pass under fruit trees. It gained great fame in the neighbouring countries, too, as a renowned horse, a swift horse good at running up and down steep mountains.

A large number of horse bones, face pieces and other horse ornaments discovered on several ancient sites including Pomuigusok Site in Musan County, North Hamgyong Province prove that horses were raised in large numbers in Ancient Korea and our ancestors enjoyed riding from early times.

Later in the Middle Ages, excellent riding techniques of ancient Koreans were developed onto a higher level with addition of handling weapons and hurdling on a horse.

People in Koguryo raised numerous kinds of excellent horses like well-known Kwahama and mastered superb riding techniques on them. Such information can also be found in some Chinese historical books. In addition, murals in Koguryo tombs give a lifelike portrayal of riding skills like archery, spear throwing, hunting on horses, etc. In Koguryo there was a hunting competition on Rangnang Hill on March 3 (by lunar calendar) every year. The winners were awarded generous rewards and some of them were offered government positions.

The riding techniques of Koguryo were handed down through Koryo to feudal Joson Dynasty.

Taejonhoethong” (1865) and “Haedongmyongjangjon” (1794) keep detailed records of archery, spear throwing and hurdling on horses in the first half period of feudal Joson Dynasty. It is recorded that Han Hui Yu, a military officer in the mid-thirteenth century used to fly into and out of the flames on a horse and Kim Tok Ryong, a famous swordsman in the period of Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, was good at running through and immediately jumping back out narrow doors while Jong Ki Ryong could lightly jump over as wide a pit as six fathoms and leap onto the top of a precipice like a flying bird.

This fully demonstrates the superb riding techniques of our people in the past.

Im Sung Bin, section head at the Academy of Social Sciences