The story of the Hungarian Horse in America begins back in Hungary in an era when horses were considered part of a country’s national treasure. One link in the long saga was the rescuing of Hungarian horses, along with the Lipizzaners, by General Patton from what was to be the Russian zone at the end of WWII.
Before we follow our Hungarian Horses to America, let's first review their origins...
From the beginning to 1960s
The modern day Hungarian Horse has a fascinating and storied history that scholars agree started with the wild Tarpan horse. The Tarpan, also known as the Eurasian wild horse, dates back to the Pleistocene era and it roamed the borders of southern Russia and Mongolia into the 1800’s. These stocky, strong bodied horses have a history that is interwoven with the histories of the peoples of the Eurasian Steppes. They domesticated horses as early as 3500 BC. Nomads roamed the Steppes for pasture and water and great nations fought back and forth for power. Far Eastern Europe and Asia existed in a state of constant warfare throughout several centuries.
In 376 AD, Attila the Hun rode out of the East to ravage what was left of the Roman Empire. Then came the Avars and then the Mongols led by Genghis Khan. The Mongols rode Tarpan type horses that were fast and tough. After the death of Genghis Khan and the retreat of the Mongols, the Turks invaded Eastern Europe. The tribes of Turkistan in the northern slope of the Afghan mountains bred the Turanian, also known as the Turkoman horse. The Turanian had long legs, a slightly dished face, and a highly developed nervous system.
The Magyars were nomadic raiders, a people of the Steppes, and descendants of the Huns. They settled in the Carpathian basin 1,000 years ago. The Magyars had inherited a horse culture that began in Central Asia 4500 years earlier. For 150 years the Magyars fought the Turks. Throughout this time, native Hungarian horses mingled with the Turkish horses, also known as Orientals. The result was a small animal but finer boned and more elegant than the Mongol type pony.
In time, the Magyars became less nomadic and their leaders settled on great estates where they raised their horses. In the Eleventh Century, because their horses were so popular as cavalry mounts, the King of Hungary forbade their export. Hungary became part of the Austrian Empire in the Seventeenth Century. The Hungarian Hussars of the Hapsburg Empire, were
acknowledged as the supreme light horsemen of all time. Their horses could carry weight, were easy keepers, and were capable of speed. These original Magyar horses were crossed with heavier cold bloods for farming and pulling, and then crossed back on the finest Arabs, Turks, Andalusians and Lipizzans. During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the Hungarian horses were heavily crossed to the best English and French Thoroughbreds and half-breds that money could buy, along with a continued Oriental influence. The result was a horse of incredible stamina, scope and ride-ability. The Hungarian was recognized as the dominant
cavalry horse of Europe.
In 1780 the Austro-Hungarian Empire became the first European power to establish a government breeding plan, using the method of farming stallions out to remount agents. Moreover, four breeding farms were established- Mezohegyes was selected to procreate the established crosses, Babalona was selected to produce Arabians to use as regenerators, and Kisber was selected to cross Thoroughbreds with the products of Mezohegyes and Babalona, always watching for the characteristics of speed and toughness of the original Hungarian horses. Fogaras was the forth stud established to breed horses that adapted to the mountains. The Lipizzans were bred there.
At these farms, only the finest horses, proven representatives of their type, were allowed to breed. Selections were governed by consideration of a horse’s performance, conformation, size, straight gaits, and disposition. These farms were operated by the Hungarian government without interruption until the Russian invasion at the end of World War II. At that time most of the stock and all of the personnel were evacuated by the German army to Donnauworth, in Southern Bavaria. Captured from the German army as an operating breeding farm by our Third Army, the stud farm was used as a remount depot and continued to operate.
Colonel Fred L. Hamilton, Chief of the American Army Remount, knowing the Remount situation in the U.S. was far from satisfactory, headed for Europe upon hearing of the German horses that were in the American Zone. Hamilton visited Breeding farms at Altefeld, Monsbach and Donnauworth and spent over a month studying the horse’s qualities. He then selected 152 horses for return to the U.S. Fifty of these were Hungarians taken as spoils of war, before the signing of our armistice with Hungary. These Hungarian horses were thought by many to be the most valuable because of their qualities of durability, economy,
speed, endurance and their ability to reproduce according to type.
Most of the Hungarian horses were sent to Fort Reno, Oklahoma and Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Later, when the American Army remount disbanded, these horses were scattered around the country in government dispersal sales. From that 1945 shipment, the Hungarian horses survived, prospered and evolved into one of the earliest Sport Horse breed registries in America.
The Hungarian Horse Association, established in 1966, was formed by Baroness Margit Bessenyey, Countess Judith Gyurky, Steve and Wanda Cooksley and Jim Edwards, to record horses and their offspring imported after World War II which originally came from Hungary. They included the United States remount importations sold to private breeders in their dispersion sales, Countess Judith Gyurky’s horses she personally brought out of Hungary and later imported, and some mares imported by Tempel Smith.
Baroness Margit Bessenyey grew up on her father Count Sigray’s estate in Hungary where she became a talented rider and gained considerable knowledge of horses and breeding. She was the granddaughter of Marcus Daly one of Montana’s Copper Kings. Margit had a farm in Maryland and inherited the Bitterroot Stock Farm from her Grandfather. She established her breeding herds from the Remount sales and later added some mares purchased from Temple Smith.
Countess Judith Gyurky was an accomplished International show jumping competitor. She won the 1936 Olympic tryouts jumping side saddle. Judith had a breeding farm at Ujszallas which she fled with her horses ahead of the Russian army at the end of WWII. It is with these horses, after acquiring her Farm in Virginia, that she established her breeding herd.
Steve Cooksley a Nebraska rancher, noted horseman and breeder bought three thoroughbred mares from the remount that were bred to Hungarian stallions. Steve and Wanda were so impressed with the foals they decided to breed Hungarians for ranch work. They found out to whom horses were sold at the dispersal sale and located and purchased those Hungarian mares to establish their herd.
Jim Edwards, a Montana rancher, leased the Stallion Honpolgar-4 from the Remount. When the remount disbanded, they asked Jim to bring Honpolgar-4 back. He refused. Margit found Jim Edwards and leased Honpolgar-4. The Cooksleys located Jim, who introduced them to Baroness Bessenyey. Working together, using Honpolgar-4 as their foundation sire, Baroness Bessenyey and the Cooksleys each established their Hungarian lines.
Derived from this small, but exceptionally pre-potent pool of horses, today’s Hungarian Horses in North America, are recognized as serious competition horses.