Kumoterka race (Poland)
Name of sport (game)
Name in native language
Place of practice (continent, state, nation)
Podhale (Polish highlands), Poland (Szaflary, Ludźmierz, Biały Dunajec, Poronin, Kościelisko, Białka Tatrzańska, Bukowina Tatrzańska, Zakopane)
Kumoterka was first a means of transport. In the interwar period they lost its character. Then, in the years 1929-1939, shows consisted of Polish Highlands’ horse-drawn (Podhale) were organized. After the war, attempts were made to reactivate the horse-drawn cart competition during the Winter Festival in Zakopane. However, it was only in 1973 that races of kumoterki appeared in Podhale for good.
Kumoterki are small, woven or wooden, decorated sleigh. They are often masterpieces of woodcarving art, made of local wood species, decorated with openwork patterns and ash braid, straw or hay is placed on the seat and covered with a checked highlander horse blanket with fringes.
In the past, when the nearest church from Zakopane was in Szaflary, the godparents used such sleighs to transport the baby to the baptism of kumotr and kumoska (godparents of the child). The appearance of the sleigh was dictated by practical reasons, as Jan Pluciński recalls in "Spiszak's Childhood": "(...) the kumoterki were less subversive because they were without seats; you sat at the bottom of the sleigh and the bottom was closer to the ground. There was a bench attached to the back, on the skies, on which the carter stood and carried his weight in such a way to keep the balance and not to let fall over”. Balance with balance but accidents did happen and more than once a tiny Christian landed in a deep snowdrift.
Today, highlanders' christenings look similar to other parts of Poland, so over time, the kumoterki have lost their function.
Kumoterka- sleigh used for racing
Kumoterki- plular form of Kumoterka
Kumotr- male driver
Kumoska- female driver
Gazda- owner of rural farm, host
Gaździna- owner’s wife
Gońba- horse pursuit
Kumoterki races are run over different distances, generally from 400 to 800 meters (sometimes up to 1400 meters). The track is usually marked out on a horseshoe plan. It is important that a lot of bends appear. This is the best way to check that you have mastered the art of driving. The crowning achievement of the competition is preceded by a great “Kumoterska Gońba” parade held at the end of the Highlander Carnival in Bukowina Tatrzańska.
During the races wearing a colorful skirt and a leather jerkin, the kumoska sits in kumoterka. A gazda is driving. It would seem that mastering such a horse-drawn is not difficult. However, those who have not seen the races on their own eyes cannot imagine the speed at which these tiny sleighs are racing. The race is very dangerous, especially in the corners of the route being traveled. Participants must show great courage and the ability to drive (gazdowie) and balance (gaździny) to maintain the balance of the sleigh. The endurance of horses is also of great importance. Accidents are not uncommon, although they are usually monitored.
Both the organizers and participants attach great importance to the appearance. The jury not only evaluates the travel time measured with the photocell. What is also very important is the outfit of Kumotr and kumoska, the appearance of horses, harnesses and of course the kumoterka.
Parades and” kumoterskie gońby” are not only races with highlander sleighs. It is also a bold skiring and ski-skiring competition. Both women and men take part in these competitions. They race at a distance of not less than 400 m. In the skiring, the person following the skis must also drive, while in the ski-skiring the horse is driven by the rider and the skier behind them is trying to stay on his feet. Winning the competition is not easy at all and obtaining the title of champion in driving is associated with something more important for the highlanders than the award: with great respect and recognition of other competitors.
Races of kumoterki have been organized for many years. Even before the Second World War, races were organized in Zakopane. In modern times, the tradition resumed at the Highlander Carnival in Bukowina Tatrzańska, which was organized for the first time in 1973. Only 16 sleighs competed in the race of kumoterki. Since then, highlanders have been organizing chases every year and the number of participants has approached one hundred. The players represent almost every town in Podhale. The first “Gazd parade” took place in 1983.
These extremely colorful sports events often last a long time (even up to 2 months), gathering around them not only the majority of highlanders-horse riders but also a lot of tourists who rarely have the opportunity to meet highlanders having fun in a true highlander event. Each competition attracts crowds, even several thousand viewers. Today, in parades and chases, you can admire several dozen kumoterki and over a hundred skiring and ski-skiring competitors.
Kumoterka races are an opportunity to meet and especially to cultivate the Podhale (Polish highland) tradition. Participants - gazdowie and gaźdźiny (hosts and housewives in the Podhale language) are festively dressed, horses wear decorations and the whole ceremony attracts viewers from many places in Poland and abroad.
Gońba Kumoterska was entered in 2017 on the national list of intangible cultural heritage in Poland.