Keeping the Magyar Csikós Tradition Alive
Long before cowboys roamed the American West, there were Hungary’s Csikós. Nobody is really sure how far back the Hungarian cowboy tradition goes but we know they are descendants of the Magyar warriors.
To understand how important the Magyar heritage is to the Hungarian population and why Hungary is unique in Europe you need to look back fifteen hundred years. The Magyar roots go back to China and Northern India and are intermixed with the Hun invasion led by King Attila. Both groups were probably independent but shared similar traits and origins. Both were famous warriors and horsemen who migrated west out of Asia into Europe and probably fought local populations and the Romans for control of territory. The Hungarian language is a topic of much debate but is probably a mix of the protolanguage Finno-Ugric and Turkish and is believed to not be related to the original Magyar.
Since 480 AD the Magyar have been native to Hungary and the Puszta or Great Hungarian Plain that stretch across 56% of Hungary and includes large parts of Romania, Serbia and Croatia. The traditional Magyar Csikós horsemen of the Puszta have been caring for their horses and tending their herds for countless hundreds of years.
Today in Hungary the traditions of the Magyar cowboys are carried on at a Hungarian horse show on a ranch near Kalocsa, Hungary. It is connected to a UNESCO declared part of the Puszta, the Hortobágy National Park, and a World Heritage Site since 1999. Included in the show are demonstrations of the Csikós renowned horsemanship – as well as of the specific practices unique to their traditions. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, when highwaymen (or betyárs) roamed the plains and attacked ranches and travelers, it was vital for horses to be trained to fight and evade. The Csikós taught their horses to lie flat on the ground on command, concealing them and their rider in the tall grass. They also conditioned the horses to the sounds of gunshots by loudly cracking their whips.
The Hortobágy National Park was founded in 1973, occupying over 500 square miles, the park is both the country’s largest protected area and the largest continuous natural grassland in all of Europe. The region is still home to these mounted herdsmen who keep the culture alive with traditional dress featuring a blue linen shirt and trousers or skirt with a black, wide-brimmed hat and feather. Today these Csikós hold a similar place in the country’s cultural history as cowboys do in the United States.