Hungarian Riding Culture

Home - Questions and answers- Kapcsolat  Irodalom - Tárgyi kultúraArticles        - FilmsLinks   -  Guestbook


Influential Hungarian Horsemen

This article is about a couple of famous Hungarian riders who had significant influence on the European riding culture. As it is often cited in Hungary, “No Prophet is accepted in his own country”. This sentence holds in case of some of these riders, meaning that they were more acknowledged in western European countries then in Hungary. Most recently, there are movements among some Hungarian rider communities to “rediscover” those forgotten famous horsemen.

There are no traces of prominent individual recognised riders in the early history of Hungarians in Europe. Contrary, the whole nation was recognised as famous riders. According to historical writings, Regino, Abbot of Prüm noticed, that whenever Hungarians are walking, standing, thinking or talking to each other, they use to do it on horseback. The living continuous horseman tradition as well as the famous Hungarian breed nearly disappeared during the period of Turkish invasion i.e. in the 16th -17th century, that was followed by the age of the totalitarian regime of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty.


The first known characteristic horseman who had well-documented influence all over Europe was perhaps Constantin Balassa, (1792-1862) a major of the Austro-Hungarian army. He became famous mostly of his gentle method of horse shoeing. A small booklet written on his subject (Hufbelschlag ohne Zwang – The Shoeing without Force) had been translated to several languages – even to Hungarian! As he was a solder and as the official language of the Austro-Hungarian army was German of course – this is not a joke. His knowledge about horses was much more and deeper than just how to shoe them. Unfortunately, all his other works (including the most famous “Die Zähmung des Pferdes. Rationelle Behandlungsart der Remonten und jungen Pferde”) still are not translated to Hungarian. However one of his sons György Balassa published a book titled “A ló nevelése és idomítása” (Education and Training of the Horse) which is a summary of the heritage of his father.

Constantin Balassa lived around the age of the first 'horse whisperers'. Actually the first horseman called this name was the Irish Daniel Sulliven, who died in 1810. Soon after Sulliven Willis J Powel and John Solomon Rarey became famous of their secret skills of taming wild and aggressive horses by gentle methods. This was exactly what Balassa emphasised, who denied that a horse could be violent by nature. He attributed all ferocious behaviour of the animal to improper treatment.

In a book of Basil Tozer, published in New York 1908 writes the following:

“Allusion to these animals recalls to mind a method of controlling horses that is said to be in vogue still in parts of Austria, where it is spoken of as " the Balassiren " of horses, and that in reality is a method of mesmerising horses before shoeing them. According to Obersteimer, whose words arequoted in Hudson's " Psychic Phenomena," the process takes its name from a cavalry officer named Balassa, who was the first to introduce or to attempt it.”

This citation clearly indicates that the influence and fame of Balassa survived even several decades after his death. (Personally I doubt if his method was a sort of animal mesmerising or hypnosis. Anyway, in lack of a clear definition it is not worth to discuss it.) 

Making a verb from his name (Balassiren is a German expression meaning: 'to do Balassa' tells a lot. What is is used for, is more or less the same as 'to do Parelli'. Both phrase refers to make a horse tame and co-operative by gentle methods. Indeed it is somewhat strange for Hungarians to learn from Americans in recent days something that was known and practised in Hungary centuries before.



To be continued...


In preparation: Count Dénes Széchényi