HN Contributor Lorraine Jackson stumbles upon a festival of inner-city horse racing in Budapest.
When I travel with my non-horse friends, I pity them. It’s a longstanding inside joke that I have a “manuradar”–that’s right, a radar for manure. I spent some time in Hungary, and at the tail end of my time there, I had a friend join me. HARMLESSLY, I said I’d take him to the big city square of Budapest, where there are art museums and (horse) statues and other good clean fun. Dear readers, I’m serious when I say that I had absolutely no idea that there was an entire horse festival and 10th century costumed Hungarian steeplechase going on there that day. This stuff just happens to me. And here I thought the worst thing I’d inflict on him was horse statues, that don’t poop. Silly me!
I was pleasantly surprised to learn over the course of a three-day horse festival that Hungarians are serious Equestrians. They are in fact called a “Nation of Horsemen” and revere their history as cavalry conquerors and defenders. You might ask what country, including the U.S., wasn’t founded upon the backs of horses? What makes Hungary unique is that this passion for their collective equine history translates into a fervent contemporary passion, in the form of horse racing, sport, art, and historic festivals (of which there are many, and play a vital part in Hungarian culture).
What this means, for the sake of this travel story, is that I had stumbled into an event called the “National Gallop at Heroes Square,” a full day of inner-city horse racing (the horses aren’t inner-city, the racing is) done in full costume representing military, ancient, and royal heroes in Hungarian history. Despite the pomp, traditions, and elaborate costumes that make the immediate image seem staged, the races themselves are daring, fast, and very real. The horses are bred for racing, the jockeys are professionals, and winning the event would be a highlight of your career.
As the hours of vendor shopping sped by and champagne was being poured upon winning horses and riders, my friend turned to me, grinning, and asked if I thought I was ever going to be this happy again. “Absolutely,” I said. “Assuming that I get to come back and see this again someday.”
If You Go:
September 14-18, 2012
Cost: Entry to the festival is free, seats or bleachers for the event are a reasonable fee.
About Budapest: Hungary is extremely safe, and very affordable. There are many hostels and a variety of hotels in the city. There is above and below ground public transportation throughout the city. Other cultural sites include Parliament, Buda Castle, Winery cave tours, world class art museums, Danube river tours, and horseback riding adventures outside the city.
For more information, visit: http://visitbudapest.travel/
Photos and story by Lorraine Jackson.