Horses in History: A Hungarian Heroine, Part II

Lorraine Jackson’s deeply fascinating three-part series continues as Judith Gyurky and her Clover Horses survive another close call at the hands of war.

Judith Gyurky 1936 Hungarian Olympic Trials- Horse Unknown

Read part I here.

When we last left our Hungarian Heroine, Judith Gyurky had just reunited with her legendary Clover Horse, Sarga, after the tumultuous years of World War I.

While Sarga was already in her golden years and would not live much longer, Judith was able to produce four more Clover Horses from Sarga before her death: two fillies and two colts. Because Judith was still living in bustling inner Vienna, Austria, when she found Sarga, she sent the mare to live with her cousin at an estate called Langos, where Sarga’s foals would be born and raised.

When several years later Judith had married and returned to a rural Hungarian estate and was ready to manage the horses herself, the Langos farm would not release them. When Judith persisted, Langos finally told her that the four sons and daughters of Sarga had all been injured in a carriage driving accident, and had to be destroyed. Devastated but not hopeless, the Countess knew she would have to start her search again, and hope that there was still a Clover left in the Austral-Hungarian Empire.

Judith continued riding, training and competing without her Clover Horses. She was one of only a small handful of women jumping at an international level, and she always did so sidesaddle. She often trained with the military cavalry, and it was here that she would encounter her next amazing twist of fate.

Conversing with a group of officers at Ujszalles after a training session, an officer asked if Judith was looking for a new jumping mount. They warned her: the mare was mean, ugly and often threw her riders, but that her six foot pen could not contain her jumping talent. Judith was all ears.

The cranky bay mare would come to be known as Igezo, which meant “The Charmer,” and when the mare was finally auctioned off by the military, the not-so-charming Igezo was sold for a fraction of her worth to an ecstatic Judith.

It took several years to break through years of misunderstanding and mistreatment to the smart and stubborn mare, but in time, the two became full and trusting partners, besting the entire Hungarian Olympic Team at the 1936 show jumping trials. It was a moment that would make Judith a figure of mysterious lore in the years to come.

Hungarian Bert de Nemethy training in Austria

Hungarian Bert de Nemethy training in Austria

Igezo also produced many lovely foals, and Judith wanted to go about registering her and her offspring. When she wrote to the military for her papers, imagine her surprise to learn that Izego had originally come from Langos, the estate where she had kept Sarga and her foals.

She went to Langos herself to speak to the coachman where she learned an extraordinary secret. Before their early deaths, one of Sarga’s daughters had been bred and produced a single filly of her own: a mean, ugly bay mare. Without knowing it, Judith had been expanding her precious Clover Horses all along through Igezo, granddaughter of Sarga.

By the time World War II broke out, Judith had 64 Hungarian Clover Horses in her barn, and the legend seemed to be fulfilling itself. But the legend, for all of its promises of peace and prosperity, seemed to equally produce chaos and tragedy. Austria and Hungary were absorbed by the Third Reich and would soon be targeted by incoming Russian troops.

Judith, like many Hungarians, tried to stay put as long as possible, before they found themselves in enemy fire. Judith knew what was coming. Troops would seize horses for Cavalry and meat, and the farm would be pillaged. She packed her smallest valuable belongings into a cart, to trade later for food for the horses, and she and her most loyal employees set out by foot to flee Hungary with a string of the 64 Hungarian horses, never to return.

If fleeing enemy armies in a world war was not trying enough, as they started out for Austria’s border, Judith’s beloved Igezo began to colic. The mare tread onward despite a heavy lather, and though she got up and down several times a day, she tried faithfully to keep up with Judith at any cost. But her condition never improved, and only worsened with every hour, and soon Judith knew that the mare was not going to survive the trek to Austria.

When Igezo went down the final time, the sound of approaching Russian troops was beginning to echo through the valley. Judith’s caravan was desperate to move forward, but she could not bear to leave Igezo to die alone by the side of the road. She held the mare’s head until she took her last breath, even as the sound of bombs and bullets got ever-closer.

As Judith brushed off the hysteria, the tears, and the dust from herself, she was approached by a young Austrian boy. According to her autobiography, Judith recalls the boy telling her that they were in fact surrounded by Russians on both sides of the road. If they had gone a quarter mile further, the entire caravan would have walked right into their road block. But the boy said he could lead them to safety through the forest if they left now. Judith looked back at her still and tender partner only once before she and the caravan followed the boy to safety.

Judith recalled in her bittersweet account that, like Sarga and the car accident in Vienna, the legend of the Clover Horse had once again saved her and her family from certain death. In this case, it was at an extraordinary cost to Igezo herself and, in my personal opinion, I don’t know that Judith ever fully recovered from the guilt she felt over that fact.

Judith and her remaining herd had survived another close call at the hands of war, and the Austria and Hungary that Judith had once known was no more. With nowhere else to go, a woman who embodied the spirit of tough and rugged horsewomen would turn her eyes to the only possible refuge: America.

Hungarian Cavalry during WWII in Erdely

Stay tuned for the third and final installment of the story of Countess Judith Gyurky and her extraordinary Hungarian Clover Horses.

I would like to dedicate this second and most moving chapter of Judith’s life to my own show partner and friend of 25 years, the Polish Arabian *Bent Jurnisa, who passed away on Friday from colic. Your beauty, brilliance, and quirks left all of us better people.

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