Getting to Know Hungarian Cowboy Culture at Bakod Puszta

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Hungarian Horse Show Kalocsa, Hungary: Getting to Know Hungarian Cowboy Culture on Viking Cruises’ Passage to Eastern Europe River Cruise. Visiting Bakod Puszta for a Hungarian Horse Show.

Hungarian Horse Show Kalosca Header


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As with so much in Hungary, it begins with alcohol. Wine, to start: red and white. And then Palinka, the rocket fuel/fruit brandy that finds its way into every social event in Hungary, no matter the time of day.


Palinka at Hungarian Horse Show Kalocsa


It’s a little past 9am, and we’re at Bakod Pustza, one of the most prominent horse ranches in the country, and the first stop on our Passage to Eastern Europe river cruise with Viking Cruises. 

Hungarians, our guide explains, are an equestrian people. More than 1,000 years ago, Magyar tribes made their way across the central Asian steppe to Hungary, conquering the Carpathian basin and establishing the Kingdom of Hungary among a sea of Slavic neighbours. Those who settled the country’s Puszta  — Hungary’s Great Plains — slowly developed an agricultural and equestrian culture unlike anywhere else in the world.

And Viking brought us here to experience it, as the first shore excursion on our 11-day Budapest to Bucharest itinerary.


Hungarian Cowboys at a Hungarian Horse Show in Kalocsa Hungary


Bakod Pustza was established in 1997.

After the fall of communism, horse farms and clubs popped up across the country as Hungarians set about rediscovering their centuries-old equestrian and agricultural roots.

Today, Hungarian cowboys — csikós — train here, learning skills to conquer the plains like their ancestors and tend to the unique livestock of this area. Most notably, visitors can see the majestic Hungarian Grey Cattle, a species which until now I’ve only known from the menus of Budapest’s burger joints, and the curly-haired Mangalica pigs, which you can see in photographs hanging above butcher stalls in Budapest (and in the sausages they sell).


Horse at a Hungarian Horse Show in Kalocsa Hungary


The show begins as four Hungarian Grey cattle thud to life, massive silver horns curving toward the sky. The species is only semi-domesticated, the announcer explains, which means they’re also still semi-wild. And seeing their long, sharp horns crowning their skull, it’s clear we never want to be on the wrong end of their wild side.

Standing tall on the cart these beasts pull, a csikó demonstrates how to control the cattle, making their lumbering selves swerve left and right in tight circles, showcasing their power to the visitors.


Grey Cattle at a Hungarian Horse Show in Kalocsa


And then the real show begins, as the csikós begin to show off the equestrian skills for which they’re famous.

In the past, csikós taught their horses skills that are – to a horse – entirely unnatural. The horses sit, much like a dog, to protect the rider in war. Even more unexpectedly, the csikós taught their horses to lie flat on the ground, like a cat about to pounce, to hide from enemies while on the plain.

Back when these traditions started, csikós’ impressive skills were a matter of life or death. Now, Hungarian Cowboys hone their skills as an investment in preserving the long, proud heritage of this part of Hungary: the Pustza.


Horse tricks at a Hungarian Horse Show in Kalocsa Hungary


[clickToTweet tweet=”Hungarian cowboys hone their skills to preserve the long, proud heritage of the Pustza.” quote=”Today, Hungarian Cowboys hone their skills as an investment in preserving the long, proud heritage of this part of Hungary: the Pustza.”]


Lying Horse at a Hungarian Horse Show in Kalocsa Hungary


Finally, the show reaches its crescendo, as thecsikós demonstrate their most impressive riding skills:


Hungarian Cowboy at a Hungarian Horse Show Kalocsa


Carrying a full mug of drink while galloping…


Hungarian Cowboy with Whip at a Hungarian Horse Show Kalocsa


Using their whip to cut down wooden pins as a display of hunting prowess…


Racing horses at a Hungarian Horse Show in Hungary


And standing tall on horses in full gallop — the most death-defying feat of the show. Spectacular.


We visited Bakod Pustza as guests of Viking River Cruises on their Passage to Eastern Europe river cruise. This 11-day, 5 country cruise took us from Budapest to Bucharest, and included stops and excursions in HungaryCroatiaSerbia, Bulgaria and Romania. At the time of writing, sailings are still available for 2017, with 2018 sailings starting on March 14.

You can read more about our experience by following these links:


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3 thoughts on “Getting to Know Hungarian Cowboy Culture at Bakod Puszta”

  1. I get it’s their historical culture. But, it was put aside. And,now to collect tourist dollars, they are re-inventing it. Like they do to suck tourist dollars in Alaska.
    Established in 1997? That says it all.

    1. Katie Matthews

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Roy. With your comment “Established in 1997? That says it all” I think you’re trying to say that these types of shows were established entirely for tourists, and imply that the date of establishment is proof of that.

      I disagree with that. I think it’s important to keep in mind that Hungary was under a communist system for much of the 20th century. During that time, private ownership wasn’t common, and long-standing traditions were shaped and changed by the communist government. You see this with food and folk traditions, as well. Since coming out of the communist times, Hungary has gone through a lot of nation building (and, in fact, before communism as well – there seemed to be a lot of work around creating national identity and story pre World Wars too), in terms of re-claiming that story, and in many cases simply creating it via government. A lot of this national identity creation is focused on the role of the peasant, and on traditions that existed pre-communism. Horse farms like this one were cheap investments when Hungary came out of communism, and had a secondary purpose around Hungarian identity.

      Do these shows exist to showcase part of Hungarian culture to tourists? Yes, absolutely, but the traditions and culture weren’t created for tourists. Do the proprietors and staff in the shows earn an income off of this tourism? Yes, absolutely, which is significant in an economically depressed part of the country, which has high unemployment. But were the shows and traditions created exclusively for tourists? No, I would say not. In fact, I’d say these shows provide an interesting peak into traditions from before communism, but also into how Hungary is still re-establishing it’s identity.

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