The Disturbing Sport You’ve Never Heard Of

There are those of us who will contend that a sport isn’t a sport if it doesn’t involve a ball. Doesn’t even have to be a round ball, obviously, as gajillions of football (American football) junkies will attest. Horseback riding? If you’re playing polo while doing it, like Walt Disney did. Swimming? There’s water polo, after all; Captain Jonathan Archer of Star Trek: Enterprise was a big fan. Running, if you’re running with a ball. And so forth. Nobody (that we know of, anyway) claims that a sport isn’t a sport unless it involves a live bird. Like, for instance, a goose. But geese, and horses, and human beings are the basic ingredients for a blessedly less common sport called goose pulling.

Amusing Planet says that the sport originated in Europe — probably Belgium or the Netherlands; possibly England — around the 17th Century, though I Funny dates it to 12th Century Spain. Eventually the sport — and we use that word most liberally — made its way to the United States, where it died out sometime in the 19th Century.

Throw in a galloping horse and you have a sport

The rules were fairly simple: a live goose was attached by its feet to a stout rope strung across an open space. The rider’s job was to approach the goose at full gallop and then grab the goose’s head in passing, ideally — sort of — removing the bird’s head in the process. Depending on how sporting everyone was, the goose’s neck might be greased up to make the grab a little more challenging. Sometimes an individual stood nearby with a whip to harass the galloping horse as it went by.

It doesn’t seem to have been a high-stakes sort of game — the prize was a decapitated, perhaps slightly stretched, goose. Maybe bragging rights. Goose pulling died out in the U.S. in the days after the Civil War, although it’s still practiced, using a previously deceased goose, in parts of Europe, including Spain, as The Sun reports. There it’s part of the celebration of the feast day of Santiago, patron saint of Spain. The connection is a little vague; there’s nothing to indicate Santiago had any particular malice toward geese.

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