Cowboys. A staple of the American Old West, Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns and… Hungary???

Indeed, for centuries the vast, sweeping plains of the Hungarian Puszta have been managed by cowboy-like csikós -- but with a distinctive flair neither Will Rogers nor Annie Oakley ever mastered. Reminiscent of the showmanship and dexterity of Buffalo Bill’s popular Wild West shows, the European csikós have a style all their own. Wearing royal blue pantaloons, black vests and a wide-brimmed black hat, these modern-day wranglers look more like British sea captains than American cowboys – so leave the jeans, fringe jackets and Stetsons at home (or at least on the ship).

Of course, despite the differences, the similarities are striking and fun to compare. Much like our heroes of the Wild West, Hungarian csikós have long been romanticized in legend and folklore. A trip into the vast grassland of the Puszta (once considered arid wasteland but now teeming with exciting wildlife) offers us a glimpse into Hungary’s provincial past.

Feel the grounds shake from the fierce galloping of hooves? Are you amazed by the grace and athletic prowess of the csikós? So have generations that’ve come before. For thousands of years, csikós lived and worked on the open frontier, herding as many as a thousand cattle across open prairie lands in treks constantly fraught with danger. Whether the attacker was a band of robbers or a pack of wolves, it was the csikós’ job to shepherd his herd safely to market. Many of the stunts that now entertain tourists were once necessary for survival: riding bareback, standing with one foot on the backs of two horses, or lying down flat in the reeds to hide. Of course, the most impressive and exciting to watch is a uniquely Hungarian equestrian feat called the Pustza Five. A rider stands astride on the rumps of two horses, steering with his reins three additional horses in front of him.

For animal lovers, a special treat in visiting the Puszta must certainly lie in applauding the wildlife conservation breakthroughs being undertaken here. The Puszta is one of Europe’s largest expanses of protected land, with over 200,000 acres of treeless plains, low forests and freshwater marshes for animals to graze and roam free. And that they are. Over the past few years, scientists have revived such ancient species as the nearly extinct Przewaski’s horse (pronounced shuh-VAL-skee, sometimes called the ‘P-horse’) and the previously extinct and massively-horned Auroch cattle, giving them a home of their own in the nearby Hungarian wild.

Explore a Hungarian Puszta during our Grand Danube itinerary.

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