Horses in History: The Hungarian Heroine, Part III
This week Lorraine Jackson concludes her deeply fascinating three-part series on the little-known story of Judith Gyurky and her Clover Horses.
Read part I here and part II here.
By 1946 Judith Gyurky had survived annihilation through not one but two world wars. She had found and lost her beloved horses, fled from Soviet armies, trained with the Hungarian Cavalry, disguised herself as a vaudeville girl to flee the country, and even competed against and defeated Olympic show jumpers. But Judith was destined to make one final journey to find peace with her horses.
As in the previous flight from Hungary, Judith made her way to Austria, hoping it could provide refuge for her and her caravan of Hungarian Clover Horses. Instead, she found outrageous boarding costs, terrible living conditions, and danger lurking at every turn for her beloved herd, which could easily be stolen for meat, cavalries or farm work. In fact, her original herd was shrinking by the day. The pastoral countryside estates of her childhood in Hungary were no more and the communists taking power sealed Judith’s fate. She was headed to the American Frontier.
Judith acted quickly, and as soon as she was granted refuge in the U.S., she left her horses alone in Austria just long enough to secure a property all her own outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. She sold every single possession she had to secure the farm and to get the horses imported.
When they arrived, all that remained of her 64-horse caravan were six mares, three stallions and four foals, all skin and bones and lucky to have survived a hurricane on the boat ride across the Atlantic. And wouldn’t you know, the newest of the four little foals bore a peculiar feature on her nose — a slate blue marking in the shape of a three leaf clover. This little mare was named Mokus and would become the foundation for the future of Judith’s American herd. The Clover Horses had shown their face to Judith once more, and she had finally brought them home.
It was far from the end of her trials. The Clover Legend’s promise (see Part I) about peace and prosperity never did seem to come true for Judith, but she saw to it, from that moment on, that it would prove true for her horses.
To feed her farm full of Hungarians, Judith took odd jobs like plucking chickens and working a cook line. Judith and her husband, Dollar, never bought a house and instead converted one of the barns on the property into a meager but unique home. And Judith continued to breed, sell, show and train her horses and bring them into the American spotlight for the next 35 years.
Judith and another Hungarian Countess in America, Margit Bessenyey (a woman worthy of a three-part series in her own right!) crossbred their Hungarian horses to make what is today the foundation for the Hungarian Warmblood Association here in the United States. Other important contributors at the time included Cooksley Ranch, Jim Edwards and the United States Army Remount Program, without whom the Hungarian bloodlines could not have been preserved.
According to what little is available about Judith’s later years, they never had much money, but her horses were never, ever hungry. A single rare interview reveals Judith in her 70s still working as the primary caretaker of the horses, living a simple life for herself, but with a lovely crop of mares and foals who wanted for nothing in fresh hay and water, and the richest grain she could afford. Countess Margit said of her friend, “She feeds them too much because she cannot forget the days in Vienna, when she had no grain.”
According to social security records, Judith died in September of 1985. There was no announcement of her death, no obituary. Quickly thereafter, the story of Judith’s heroism for her Clover Horses was lost except to a select few involved with the Hungarian Warmbloods, and those lucky enough to own one of the 2,000 copies Judith had printed of her own book. Today, what lingers on in the world-wide-webbed-consciousness is a nearly anonymous photograph of her jumping sidesaddle, and her name misspelled. After reading her story, it was more than I could bear.
As best as I can tell, this three-part account is the most accurate and complete telling of Judith’s story available to the public on the web. Citizens of Horse Nation: Share her story. Rewrite her ending. For everything she gave to preserve her most precious possessions, let us make sure the horse world, in fact, the whole world, does not forget her name again. Do it for the Clover Horses!
For Further Reading:
The Heavenly Horses by Virginia Weisel Johnson is no longer in print, but is available secondhand on Amazon.com, and is the most complete version I’ve found of Judith’s story, as well as more about the Hungarian breed and other contributors to their foundation in America.
The Mark of Clover was penned under Judith’s married name, Judith Barczy Kelly, and is extremely rare and hard to find, but is available through inter-library loan. Judith wrote this book to tell the entire Legend of Clover, and it’s a fun read and beautifully illustrated. She also covers the story of her own horses in the final pages.
TBD: A book is currently in the works by Shannon Weil of California about the Hungarian Horses, and specifically their connection to Linda Tellington-Jones and Countess Margit Bessenyey. When the book is available, we will let our readers know.
An enormous thanks to the following individuals, without whom this story never could have been told:
Stephanie Hutcherson of the Georgia Ladies Aside Society, Shannon Weil, The Chronicle of the Horse Forums and their contributors, Ellen Walker of the Hungarian Warmbloods of America, Virginia Weisel Johnson, Wake Forest University for the loan of Judith’s book, and of course, my thanks to Judith, Sarga, Igezo, Mokus and Mokus II for their demonstration of courage, grace and ferocity together over the course of nearly 100 years.
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