by Carol Atkins
When I heard that on our cruise along the Danube River we would make a stop at a Hungarian horse farm and talk with the cowboys, I was very intrigued as I’ve been to Texas a few times. First, let me clear up something – no, not everyone in Texas has oil wells and ranches and lots of cattle, no matter what you may have seen on the TV show Dallas. However, I do like things western – I have several cowboy hats and sets of boots, mostly worn when I go Country Western dancing. When my husband had suggested a Danube River cruise, I was all up for that experience, but a stop in Hungary to visit with cowboys – that felt like a wonderful bonus.
As we headed out to the horse breeding farm, our guide gave us background. The first Hungarians, the Magyars, were warrior horsemen who migrated from central Asia in the 9th century. Today Hungarians consider themselves a riding nation, and this may be part of the reason Hungary is so successful at the equestrian events during the Olympics. The cowboys were called csikos and the Hungarian outlaws were called the betyar, who rode the countryside robbing the wealthy. Boy did that sound like our tales of the Old West. I had no idea! They were seen as heroes by many in Hungary, as symbols of freedom who were both excellent riders and fiercely independent – they refused service in the military.
By the time we got to the farm I was doubly intrigued – the parallels to the Texas frontier were striking. We were in flatlands that felt like home – a large plain that they called the Puszta not far from the Danube River. We passed numerous pens of galloping horses, and the land felt fresh and unmarked by many highways. As we pulled up to a corral, the guide explained that we were lucky – we were seeing riders practice the “Pustza Five” – an difficult feat with three horses in front, and two in back. The rider stood with one foot on each of the two horses in back, reins in hand as the horses galloped into the arena, as relaxed as if he was standing on solid ground. We could feel the ground shaking from the beat of hooves. My jaw dropped – now that was an impressive sight! When he saw us standing next to the corral, the csikos jauntily took off his hat and waved it at us! While this reminded me of the feats we’d heard about during Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, the hat was a shock – it looked like an English sea captain’s hat – black felt, with a high brim all the way around. With his billowing white shirt sleeves and blue pantaloons, this cowboy didn’t look at all like what I’d see back home. But the skill he was displaying – that was undeniable! What a wonderful adventure during a Budapest Danube river cruise!
Later the cowboy walked over to talk with us with a rolling gait so reminiscent of the cowboys I’d been around I half expected to hear the jingle of spurs. He was flushed after his exhilarating ride, but surprisingly modest when we praised his accomplishments. We had to speak mostly through a translator, but I got the feeling that this man was more used to working horses than entertaining tourists. As he talked with us, he had a horse near his shoulder, which several times nudged him in the back – he laughingly told us that this horse had figured out how to nag him for food. After he shook our hands and turned to go back to the stables, he dropped the reins, and the horse followed along like a small dog – the connection they shared was incredible. Several times the cowboy would jog a few steps to one side or another, the horse following, like they were playing their own private game.
Our guide told us that many of these cowboys lived on the ranches, and had little contact with the outside world. Again the comparison to the Old West – I thought of cowboys gathered around a campfire at the end of a day’s cattle drive – the simplicity of their lives by choice and preference. This Hungarian cowboy visit was a highlight of our Danube river tour, and I was delighted that we stopped there.
Carol Atkins has been traveling the globe for much of her life. She loves of all types of travel adventures including her Danube river cruise, island hopping, hiking, cruising and being lazy on the beach. You can Follow her on twitter @atkins_carol
For more info on the Danube River Cruise Carol took, click here.