Horses and Folk Traditions
Home on the Range, Hungarian Style

Hungary and horses go together, well, like a horse and carriage. Which isn't surprising when you consider that the first Hungarians, the Magyars, were warrior horsemen who rode from the steppes of central Asia to settle in present-day Hungary in the ninth century ad. Today there are dozens of full service riding centers near Budapest and in the countryside where guests can enjoy riding instruction or horseback excursions, often along with horse shows, and charming, inexpensive country-style accommodations. Great value and unspoiled open spaces are the hallmarks of equestrian holidays in Hungary - and they take on an added cultural dimension you'll find nowhere else. Not only does horseback riding itself take on a distinct Hungarian flavor, but there are our centuries of folk heritage, too. In a country with a history as long and complex as ours, folk traditions are in evidence everywhere, from the folklore house of Kalocsa to the village of Hollókő, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our equestrian tradition is best preserved on the Great Plain, or Puszta, a vast flat land whose spirit mirrors that of the old American West. The Puszta is unique in Europe, with its whitewashed farmhouse walls, fields of bright red paprika, sweep wells, thatched csárdas (roadside inns), galloping horses and stud farms. And while the Great Plain is easily accessible, it is not spoiled by busy roads or railways. The land is refreshingly unmarred by the heavy hand of civilization, has a unique flora and fauna - and a flat terrain that makes it excellent riding country. 

HorsemanIt's out on the Puszta that you'll find authentic Hungarian cowboys (csikós), known across Europe for their prowess on horseback. Many of them are masters of the famous "Puszta Five," a feat of equestrian skill that involves three steeds in front and two in back, on which the csikós stands, steering with the reins (don't try this at home: it's a Hungarian specialty!). You can see demonstrations at numerous riding centers and horse farms.
 

Riding for All Levels

The riding center at Bugac, in the heart of the Puszta 80 miles southeast of Budapest, has regular equestrian competitions and carriage driving contests. At the Táltos Riding Pension, with its family-friendly apartment style bungalows, intermediate and experienced riders can explore the nearby forests on Hungarian half-breed horses, accompanied by tour leaders. The Jakabszállás farm pension, with its own stables and both Departing for Fox Hunting - SzirákArabian and Hungarian half-breed horses, is near the Kiskunság National Park, a UNESCO-designated bioreserve, and a beautiful wild bird sanctuary. In the park itself is the Hotel Apaj Manor House, where guests canenjoy riding, carriage driving and Puszta cultural shows. The nearby Golden Horse Leisure Park specializes in luxury services in an unspoiled riding environment. 

HortobágyHungary's largest riding center is the Epona Riding Village in the Hortobágy National Park, a part of the Puszta famous for its boundless horizons, horse studs and cattle herds. There are even herds of buffalo and twisted horn Racka sheep roaming the unspoiled grasslands. For a riding tour you'll never forget, head to Ópusztaszer, where guests stay in traditional yurts as did the Magyars of yore, riding at leisure and learning firsthand about the ancient arts of Hungarian warfare. Riding tours can also explore the verdant area along the River Tisza or the region of Tokaj, famous for its wines. 

HollókőIn northern Hungary, be sure to visit Hollókő, a pristine medieval village nestled in the Cserhát Mountains. This living museum village, guarded by a restored 13th century castle, has 65 original buildings, most with spotless white walls and traditional shingle roofs, and affords an intimate look at the pastoral life of Hungary in centuries past. 

And, of course, horses aren't far away. The world famous Lippizzaner stallions call nearby Eger home, and indeed many originated in this Baroque city at the foot of the Bükk Hills.  There is a Lippizzaner Riding Farm only a few miles from Eger Castle in Szilvásvárad. Horseback riding is available not only on the Puszta and in the Northern Hills, but also near Lake Balaton, in Southern Transdanubia or near Budapest. 

 

In western Hungary, around the beautiful Lake Balaton, there are several riding centers, particularly on the hilly uplands of its northern shore. The scenic Bakony Hills offers an excellent riding trail, starting out in Pápa. The forested countryside of Southern Transdanubia also offers many equestrian holiday possibilities. Orfű and Mecseknádasd, in the Mecsek Hills near Pécs, are well-known riding centers. 

Just a 20-minute ride from Budapest you'll find the Petneházy Country Club Hotel, a wonderful property with 80 horses, riding instructors, two gourmet restaurants and delightful, cottage-style accommodations. 
 
Paprika String
Paprika...

...and folk traditions reign supreme in Kalocsa, at the edge of the Puszta near the Danube. This agrarian town is the paprika capital of Hungary, a fact you'll easily discern from the red paprika drying in strings on the eaves of traditional wooden houses, many of which are also graced with flower-ornamented wall paintings. 

Paprika Festival - KalocsaAt the Paprika Museum, you can learn about harvesting methods and buy bags of the signature Hungarian spice for a fraction of what it costs in North America. Kalocsa is also renowned for its embroidery, characterized by intricate floral patterns whose colors traditionally indicate the age of the wearer. You can peruse a vast selection of embroidery at the Kalocsa Folklore House, as well as outdoors at the Juci Néni Csárda, where there is also a daily folk dancing show - which like Kalocsa itself is full of delights. 

Be sure to read our article about 'Hungarian Folk Arts' as well.