Honourable President, Honourable Director, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
When I was a child one could often see horses in my village. At that time there was a saying that your prestige in the community was measured by how you treated your horses. While nowadays horses are less visible in our daily lives, the old rule still applies: one’s honour is measured by how one treats one’s horses. Watching this magnificent show, it occurred to me how right Churchill was when he said there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. And it is not only good for separate individuals on their own, but also like this, collectively – whether in a village with a few hundred inhabitants, or in a metropolis with a population of millions. Indeed Budapest would not be the same without horses, either. The members of famous equestrian nations have always known that horses are at least as heroic as their riders, and deserve at least as much respect. It’s well worth pondering how far our ancestors would have got on the endless steppes if they hadn’t had outstanding horses. And would anyone have been able to shoot arrows at full gallop, their torso turned to the enemy behind them, on a horse which they couldn’t trust with their life? I hardly think so. Ladies and Gentlemen, nobody knows exactly where the Hungarians’ ancestors originally came from before their arrival in the Carpathian Basin, but it is certain that they knew everything about horses – and their horses knew everything about them. They rode together all around Europe, from top to toe, all the way from what today is Belgium to the Iberian Peninsula and the Balkans; and we cannot rule out that we eventually settled here, in the Carpathian Basin, because our horses were used to the freedom of the steppes and felt most at home here, in this place.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
There are peoples which became famous equestrian nations because over the course of time they learnt all the “tricks of the trade”. In our case the situation is more mysterious. It is now lost in the mists of time when and under what circumstances the Hungarian people became one with horses and horses became one with the Hungarian people. It is also a mystery how a good Hungarian could go to England and buy an English Thoroughbred, whose offspring a few years later would – to Britain’s astonishment – win the Epsom Derby. Indeed here the greatest Hungarian was originally a captain in the Hussars, whose later fame rested in part on a book he wrote about horses – a book that has remained relevant down to the present. In that book István Széchenyi wrote that, due to its geographical location, climate and national spirit, no other country could raise horses quite as fine as those raised in Hungary. And, he added, what we make of this depends solely on ourselves. We now have a long list of achievements that we have created from this unique combination: famous horses such as Kincsem and Imperiál; and famous stud farms, such as Kisbér, Bábolna, Hortobágy and Szilvásvárad. And we have also produced experts of world renown: Ágoston Endrődy, Albert Klimsa, Tibor Pettkó-Szandtner, and many others who earned fame not only in Hungary, but also abroad, after they were forced to leave the country. And finally there was one other positive outcome that we managed to produce from our characteristics and opportunities: the construction of the National Riding School – or “Tattersall”, as its maiden name was. So everything was going well until the rain of blows delivered by the 20th century – one of the many capital crimes of which was to separate Hungarians from their horses. This began by forcing the Hungarian hussar to dismount from his charger and huddle in the trenches of the Great War; it continued by forcing Hungarian farmers to hand their horses over to collective farms; and finally for forty years an ever greyer socialism declared riding to be some kind of upper-class roguery. When the new millennium arrived, it seemed like one of the world’s finest and proudest equestrian nations would thereafter be forced to roam the streets of history on foot.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,
We are here not only to recall glorious times or grieve over the dark recent past. We have gathered here so that in a few decades from now, when they look back on this cold February day, people can say that this could have been the moment when the Hungarian people declared themselves to be an equestrian nation once again. We want them to be able to say that this marked the beginning of an era in which we once again discovered how to breed world-beating horses. A few years ago we joined forces in order to make Hungarian equestrian culture great again. We love Hungary, we love our culture, and therefore we also love our horses. By some miracle the Hungarians have retained their equestrian spirit. For this, Ladies and Gentlemen, the credit is yours. And thanks also to the equestrian community, this national institution – which was founded 140 years ago this year – was saved from attempts to bulldoze it. In 2006 it seemed that not one stone would be left on another. You, however, decided otherwise, setting up a foundation and saved the nation’s riding school. Furthermore, you even began to develop this institution from your own resources. You decided, and I now quote you, “to create out of the National Riding School an asset, and a cultural, professional, training and competition centre, which will exclude the possibility of its closure ever being considered again”. I’d like to make it clear that the Hungarian government was able to refurbish the National Riding School within a budget of 3.2 billion forints because your exemplary civic initiative rescued it from ruin. We should give thanks to God for the fact that now an international riding school stands here, where last December you staged a world event. A building complex of some nine thousand square metres has been refurbished, the historic main building, an interpretation centre, stables and a new judge’s podium have also been completed. We can now say that we’ve provided fitting facilities for our competitive riders, who will – we hope – be able to achieve results like those of György Bárdos, Zoltán Nyúl, András Balczó, or, for that matter, the Lázár brothers. Today riding and carriage driving are simultaneously sports, culture and entertainment. Above all, however, they represent the preservation of a living national tradition for generations to come. This is a fine mission. This is what spurred us to launch the Kincsem National Equestrian Programme in cooperation with the Hungarian Equestrian Federation in 2012. We can now proudly say that state stud farms are once again the custodians of the noble traditions of Hungarian horse breeding, where great new racehorses following in the tradition of Kincsem and Imperiál can be raised.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The greatest Hungarian hussar captain also entreated us to remember that keeping horses should not only be something fine, but should also be profitable. I don’t know if this is possible, but at any rate we are seeking this path. Hungarian history has shown us that in general what works in other countries can also work here: from horse breeding, to equestrian tourism, to competitions at international levels. If others have succeeded, why can’t we?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The past few years have shown that, when they entered into an alliance, the Government and the equestrian community bet on the right horse. We should be happy that today – after the Music Academy, Erkel Theatre, the Vigadó Concert Hall, Ludovika Academy and the Castle Garden Bazaar – we can inaugurate yet another beautifully refurbished old institution, and hand it over to the residents of Budapest and to the whole of Hungary. I would like to thank everyone who has taken part in this work of salvage and refurbishment. I now officially inaugurate the National Riding School.
Go for it Hungary, go for it Hungarians!