The picture of wild Hungarian horsemen racing across the plains on fiery stallions is one of Europe’s most romantic images. But even though the Magyar horsemen who conquered the Carpathian Basin long ago are just a memory, their traditions still live on in Hungary. I was lucky enough to see them while visiting Budapest during my recent Viking river cruise, and for a horse lover like me, it was a day to remember.
The Lázár Equestrian Park is about 35 kilometres from Budapest, in a region called Domonyvölgy. But it’s really a few hundred years away, in a world where the horse was the main vehicle for daily life, pleasure and war. It’s owned by the Lázár family, famous for producing two world-champion horsemen: brothers Vilmos and Zoltán Lázár have won a room full of trophies in the sport of coach driving, on display at the park.
But a visit to the Equestrian Park isn’t about coach driving – at least, for the most part. It’s about the mastery of the Magyar horsemen, and it’s pretty spectacular. The Lázár riders do the things we’ve seen in movies but never thought we’d see in real life.
The show does start with a little coach driving of course. The Lázár coaches are pulled by Hungarian Nonius horses, dark brown and muscular. But they also keep a few other breeds, and the crowd-pleaser was a coach pulled by four white ponies.
Then it was on to the Magyar horse skills. The Hungarian horsemen are famous for their proficiency with a bullwhip, and they can use it both while standing on two feet or racing by on four hooves.
The Magyars’ military might, however, was based on shooting arrows with deadly accuracy from a horse at full gallop. And these Hungarian horsemen gave an impressive demonstration, piercing the target as if they were standing still.
Later, they demonstrated their total control over their mounts by making them lie down and even sit like a dog, a position entirely foreign to a horse. And while they were down there, why not use them as a chair?
There were also some more conventional equestrian skills, regally executed by Queen Elisabeth, better known as Sisi – the former empress of Austria and queen of Hungary. I doubt this was the real Sisi, since she was assassinated in 1898, but her stand-in did a nice job of putting her horse through its paces, doing dressage steps and even getting it to step up and stand on a little platform — all while riding sidesaddle.
But the climax of the show was the Puszta-five, the Lázárs’ signature trick. The rider stands on the back of two horses, with another three in front, and drives all five as if he were in a coach. It sounds impossible, but once again, the young rider made it look easy.
When all the tricks were done, it was time for a bow, and the horses took part right along with the Hungarian horsemen – after all, they did most of the work.
The day wasn’t done, however: the Equestrian Park adds a little fun to these outings with a wagon ride through the nearby woods. The wagons were pulled by the Nonius horses and by Lipizzaners, the famous steeds of the Spanish Riding School, which we visited during our day in Vienna. Touring the stable area later, we got a close-up look at these beautiful horses.
Finally, there was a look around the farm, which preserves some historic breeds of farm animals, like this goat with her adorable kids. It was a fun, and at times spectacular, afternoon with the Hungarian horsemen. I’d recommend it.
I was a guest of Viking River Cruises on this trip. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
The photos in this post were taken with the Panasonic DMC-G7 and Sony DSC-WX500 cameras.