Where Cowboys Roam – Hortobágy National Park, Hungary
Horsemen next to God
Back at the stables in Mita, I talked with Imre Juhasz, the head csikós of the breeding mares. He was cutting out tiny shapes from horn, tin and plastic to set into a whip handle, the silhouettes drawn from the iconography of the horsemen: colts, stick figure csikós, pistols, knives. “It’s hard to find young men who want to live on the puszta in modern Hungary,” he complained. “Some have promise and I teach them everything and then after a few years they’re gone to the city. And the horses? What are they for nowadays, anyway?” Imre looked gloomy: “Maybe the csikós and the Nonius horse are heading for the sunset?”
He cheered up, called over a young horseman and ordered him to show me the whip that he’d made for himself. Imre was affectionately brusque with his apprentice. “It’s good work but you should do more, like I do,” he gestured at the piece he was decorating. “You’re too lazy, aren’t you?”
The lad put up a spirited defence: “Maybe a bit, but I’m distracted – there are too many girls catching my eye.” He’d got the swagger of someone who might have left his cifraszür in a house or two.
Imre wasn’t letting him off the hook. “Work as hard as me,” he told him, “and you’ll ruin your eyesight and then you won’t see any girls.”
He continued, “To be a csikós you must love horses, not just horse-riding, but horses, then all the skills will come in time. For Hungarians the horse has always been special.” Imre counted down on his fingers through the hierarchy of the plains’ herders: “The cattle drovers, then the shepherds and at the bottom the swine herds. At the top is God, and just to his right side is the csikós.”