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Hungarian Horsemen, Hortobagy National Park and the Puszta

Around June I became aware that a few things existed, Hungarian horsemen and their incredible skills, the UNESCO listed Hortobágy National Park, the Puszta and the rare and heritage breed livestock of this unique region. We’ve been trying to make a visit to this area ever since but our first chance came with our trans-Europe, Romania to London 2017 roadtrip. We decided to make this trip fun and an exploration rather than the usual trudge, so seeing these Hungarian blue-clad cossaks with their whip-cracking trick riding, grey cattle and weirdly horned racka sheep became our first destination. We drove south fromm Maramures, crossed the border into Hungary near Oradea and headed to Hortobagy for the first night of our summer adventure in Europe.

The long-horned Hungarian Grey Cattle were once near extinction, now they graze the Hungarian Great Plain again. Here cattle dogs expertly drive them towards us.

Hortobagy National Park

We found it difficult to find accurate information on this region online, most of the websites were in Hungarianin and defeated Google translate also the information they offered was confusing and less than helpful. We decided to head to the Hortobágy Nemzeti Park Tourist Information Centre after breakfast and simply ask how best to enjoy and explore the area. Their top suggestion was the Mata Stud and their 10am tour was about to start, we had a plan!

Wells for watering animals Hungary
Trditional wells dot the flat grasslands of the Great Hungarian Plain and keep the livestock watered.

This post will mostly consist of photos from our tour at the Mata Stud, we’ll also tell you where we stayed and give you more options on things to do and places to visit in and around Hortobágy National Park. This was an incredible morning and absolutely worth doing, you can reach the area easily by road, it’s in central, eastern Hungary, or there is a train station nearby at Mata.

What is the Puszta?

 Hungarian Racka horned sheep. Traditional breed Hortobagy
Traditional Racka sheep with their crazy v-shaped horns, enjoying some shade at a roadside on the Hungarian Plain.

UNESCO say ” Puszta consists of a vast area of plains and wetlands in eastern Hungary. Traditional forms of land use, such as the grazing of domestic animals, have been present in this pastoral society for more than two millennia.”

It’s a fascinating area to drive through, encircled by commercial agricultural land, endless sunflowers, corn and grains, the Hortobágy Puszta is reminiscent of the grassy plains of the UK, even Mongolia. Grasslands and wetlands mingle, giving a diverse habitat and abundant birdlife.

Where to Stay for Hortobágy National Park

 curly haired Hungarian pigs Great Hungarian plain
Curly haired Hungarian pigs are another traditional breed. They come in red, white and black. Interestingly, I saw a curly white pig at our local livestock market in Romania, I thought it was a freak genetic occurrence, but maybe not. Western Romania was formerly part of Hungary.
Waterbuffalo in Hungary and Romania
Water buffalo first came to this part of the world from India with overland caravans. They are stronger than the Hungarian grey cattle, can run faster than a horse if you make them cross and of course, make delicious mozzarella. We often see them in Romanian farms too.

We visited the Hortobágy area mid-week, in July and we found it hard to find accommdation through limited availability. We settled on a lower cost small hotel in Balmazújváros, a small town on the edge of the park. Breakfast was included, the family suite had 2 separate bedrooms and the town had a good restaurant and a fantastic swimming pool and natural hot water spa a short walk away. We would recommend this hotel as a good basic choice.

Check out prices and availability for Kerekes Panzió here.

Pictures of Hungarian Horsemen From Hortobagy National Park and the Mata Stud

The whips are purely for display and to demonstrate whip cracking skill while riding without a girth. The saddles aren’t attached at all.
The horses kneel then lie down while the rider continues to twirl his whip.
Apparently this is incredibly rare. Horses sitting like a dog. I have no idea.
These carts are very similar to those still in use in Romania today, historically salt from the Transylvanian salt mines passed this way by cattle cart. ( See our post on the Turda Salt Mine)
Hungarian shepherd and cattle dog herding grey cattle at Hortobagy
Well trained cattle dogs herd the huge Hungarian Grey Cattle accross the grasslands.

Is the Mata Stud and Hortobágy Park Good for Kids?

Hortobagy horsemen good for kids hungary

It’s fantastic for kids! The animal park mentioned below gives children the opportunity to interact with baby animals and everything about this region is extremely interesting and educational, from the whip-cracking horsemen to the rooftop crane’s nests. The little museum at the Visitor’s Centre is great too.

Other Things to Do in and Around Hortobágy National Park

 Traditional Hungarian Thatched barns
Thatch reaches the ground on the long Hortobgy barns. It provides insulation in summer’s heat and winter’s snow. These barns house the racka sheep a the Mata Stud.

Swimming, Thermal Pools and Spa at Balmazújváros

Hortobágy Nemzeti Park Tourist Information Centre and Visitor Centre with Craftsmen’s Yard. (as above, craftsman’s yard only on weekends)

Hortobagy Wild Animal Park

Puszta Animal Park

The Annual Crane Migration, see thousands of cranes in the region in October.

The Great Fish Ponds

For you, for Pinterest

Hungary's Horsemen and Heritage Livestock

So that’s our Europe road trip off to a great start, we enjoyed exploring the Hortobágy National Park and meeting the blue clad horsemen and their animals even more than expected, it was a morning to remember. Onward now into the south of Hungary for Lake Balaton, Hungary’s inland sea, and from there beautiful Slovenia. Stick around to follow!

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Saturday 22nd of July 2017

Hi Alyson!

I'm so glad you had a great time there. I was working as a guide on the carriage tour in Máta.for a few years.

Alyson Long for World Travel Family

Saturday 22nd of July 2017

Ha! Small world. Our guide was lovely, great place.

Thais Saito

Tuesday 18th of July 2017

I can't get over those sheep horns! So pretty! My kids would enjoy this. Maybe when we're in Europe...

Talitha Cooreman-Guittin

Sunday 16th of July 2017

How amazing ! I'll be forwarding this link to my daughter, who is passionate with horses. It might give her an idea for a trip! Thanks, Alyson ! Talitha

Carolyn. Erdodi Pusztai Duprow

Monday 19th of November 2018

AveMy husband and I have traveled to Hungary. All over the country. As my parents & Grand parents both sides are Hungarian. We were so unpressed on the Hordabachis. My maiden name is Pusztai/Erdodi. So we retraced the family in Egar-Pest-Vag. We finally found the family. I do not speak Hungarian now. But back with family in Egar. I will pick up some. I am Proud to be a Hungarian!????

nomadic family life

Alyson is the creator of World Travel Family travel blog and is a full-time traveller, blogger and travel writer. A lifetime of wanderlust and now over 7 years on the road, 50+ countries allowed the creation of this website, for you. She has a BSc and worked in pathology before entering the travel arena and creating this website. World Travel Family Travel Blog has been helping you travel more, better and further since 2012, when Alyson and James first had this life changing idea. On this site you can find endless travel information, tips and guides plus how to travel, how to fund travel and how to start your own travel blog.