Hungarian Horse

  • HEIGHT: 15.3–17 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Hungary
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Outstanding athletic ability, excellent gaits
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Show jumping, dressage, eventing, and combined driving

Hungary’s renowned position among the finest horsemen in the world goes back for centuries. Horses formed the essence of the culture of the Magyar tribesmen, who first swept in from Asia during the ninth century, mounted on swift little dun-colored horses. In the tenth century, Duke Géza imposed central control over what had previously been a confederation of some eighty nomadic clans that united only for purposes of war. Until they were united, the clans of Hungarians lived through a combination of agriculture, animal husbandry, and Viking like raiding campaigns conducted on horses. These people later became known as the Hussars of the Hapsburg Empire, and they are still famed as being among the best light horsemen of all time.

The original horses of the Magyars were gradually crossed on heavier, cold-blooded horses for agricultural needs and then crossed back on the best Turks (Turkmene or Akhal-teke), Arabs, Andalusians, and Lipizzans. Hungarian Horses long served as the dominant cavalry horse choice for European armies. The first government-run breeding plan known in Europe was established in 1780 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, using a technique of farming out stallions to remount agents. In addition, three separate breeding farms, or studs, served different purposes. The farm at Mezohegyes provided horses of particular crossbred types. The stud at Bablona produced Arabians and Arabian crosses. The Kisber stud crossed Thoroughbreds on the horses that had been produced by the other two farms. All three farms bred only the very best horses that were representative of their type and were proven by use.

A LUCKY CLOVER LEAF

According to ancient Hungarian legend, very rarely a horse would be born with a slate-blue mark in the shape of a three-leaf clover on its muzzle. This was a sign that a gift of great good fortune had been bestowed on all horses of that line. According to the legend, any family owning a “Clover” horse would grow and prosper and be safe from danger, and if a Clover horse was stolen or taken by force, it would one day find its way back to the owner. At least one of the Hungarian stallions in the United States is of Clover lineage, and in Washington state in 2000 produced a Clover filly, Magyar Velvet, the first to be born in the world in fifty years.

The Hungarian government operated the stud farms without interruption until the Russian invasion near the end of World War II, when the German army took most of the horses to southern Bavaria. General George Patton, an expert horseman, led the rescue of these Hungarian Horses, as well as a number of Austrian Lipizzans. Ultimately a group of the rescued Hungarian Horses arrived in what was then occupied Germany, where Colonel Hamilton, chief of the Remount Services for the U.S. Army, sent them to the United States to be used in the Army Remount Breeding Program. They arrived not long before the remount program was disbanded in 1949, at which time many horses were sold at auction and some stallions were sold to private owners who had been leasing them. It took quick work on the part of exiled Hungarian Countess Magrit Sigray-Bessenyey and several Americans, who tracked down and acquired as many of the horses as they could find, to save the breed. Without their intervention, some of the best Hungarian bloodlines developed over centuries would have been gone forever.

The modern Hungarian shows great strength and excellent movement.

Also during the war, an unstoppable Hungarian countess and former international jumper rider, Judith Gyurky, fled her estate in Hungary with sixty-four Hungarian Horses, seventeen carts of feed, and a cart carrying small foals, just ahead of the invading Russian army. Despite tremendous hardship and loss, she managed through sheer will to bring a small breeding group of these horses to the United States, where they later provided an out-cross for the former U.S. Army Remount group.

Countess Sigray-Bessenyey also purchased some Hungarian Horses in the 1960s that had originally been imported by Tempel Smith, who was renowned for having imported Lipizzans as well as for founding the famous Tempel Farms. The bloodlines of these three groups of horses—the remount horses, Countess Gyurky’s horses, and the Tempel Farms horses—along with a few additional imports, have combined to produce the Hungarian Horse that exists in North America today.

Breed Characteristics

Hungarian Horses are known to be excellent, sometimes spectacular, movers and outstanding jumpers. Prior to World War II, riders of many countries sought them for international competition. In North America today they are used primarily for show jumping, dressage, eventing, and combined driving, often at the highest levels of all sports.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the Hungarian Horse Association of America (established in 1966):

• There are 1,000 horses currently registered.

• About 15 new foals are registered each year.

• Part-breds are accepted for registration.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION

Hungarian Horses have figured prominently in a variety of sports. Both Olympic gold medalist David O’Connor and top trainer Jo Struby rode Hungarian Nicolaus in advanced three-day eventing competitions. HMS Dash, bred by Countess Gyurky and ridden by Kerry Milliken, was on the U.S. equestrian team in three-day eventing. Hilda Gurney, Olympic dressage team member, competed on her Hungarian Pasha. Linda Tellington-Jones showed Hungarian stallions at hunter/jumper shows, in three-day eventing, and in the grueling Tevis Cup endurance ride, in which M Brado, bred by Countess Gyurky, placed in the top ten. Having drawn the 127th start position out of 127, he passed more horses than any other horse in history to achieve his final position.

From a population of only about 1,000 horses in North America, Hungarians have succeeded at the highest levels of sport in eventing, dressage, and endurance.

Conformation

Usually standing 15.3 to 17 hands, Hungarians are powerful horses without being massive. The head is well shaped with good width between the eyes, and the expression is kind and alert. The throatlatch is well defined and the neck long and nicely set on long, sloping, well-muscled shoulders. The withers are prominent. The chest is deep. The strong back is moderately long, the croup somewhat rounded, and the tail is set fairly high. The legs are well muscled, the joints clean, and the cannons short with clearly defined tendons and solid hooves.

Color

Hungarian Horses can be any solid color, including palomino and buckskin.