Goose Pulling, also known as Goose Riding, Gander Pulling or Pulling the Goose, was an old sport originally played in some parts of the Netherlands, England, Belgium and North America from the 17th up to the 19th centuries.
Known as a blood sport, it involved a goose that was hung by its legs from a pole or a rope that is stretched across a road. A man on a horseback at a full gallop would attempt to grab the goose by the neck to try and pull its head off.
Whoever takes the head off was declared the hero and the noble hero of the day.
Using a live goose, they made the sport more difficult by coating the goose’s neck with loads of oil to make it hard to grip. Also, the goose’s continuous flapping and thrashing made it hard to pull it. The prize was sometimes the dead bird, or alcohol of some kind.
Goose pulling was often frowned upon. In 1656, there was an issued ordinance against goose pulling, calling it “unprofitable, heathenish and pernicious”. Many contemporary writers expressed their disgust against goose pulling. A published review on the Southern Literary Messenger in 1836 described the sport as a “piece of unprincipled barbarity not infrequently practiced in the South and West.”
After the Civil War in America, goose pulling died out, but it was still practiced in the South in 1870s.
Today the sport continues in modified form in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany, with dead geese used instead of live geese. See more about the unusual sport of goose pulling.
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