The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part X: 5th Annual International Hucul Horse Races and 2nd Annual International
One of the biggest events of the year at Aggtelek National Park, the 5th Annual Jósvafő International Hucul Horse Races and 2nd Annual International Farrier Competition was held on August 17-18, 2013.
The Hucul or Carpathian is a pony or small horse breed originally from the Carpathian Mountains. It has a heavy build and possesses great endurance and hardiness. The breed is also referred to as the Carpathian pony, Huculska, Hutsul, Huţul, Huţan or Huzul. The breed gets its name from the Hutsul people, who live mostly in the Carpathian's in Ukraine and in Romania, but also in an area in the East Carpathian Mountains north of the river Bistritz, officially named "Huzelei". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hucul_pony)
The Hucul Horse Races at Aggtelek National Park are a new type of modern competition specifically developed to test and gauge the hucul breed of horse. The goal is to put the horses through their paces on a course built on extremely difficult hilly terrain, and thus demonstrate their extraordinary skills and knowledge in navigating and overcoming obstacles.
The farrier event highlights and promotes the traditional farrier profession, and aims to help preserve this knowledge for posterity. The competition displays blacksmithing skills and technology from various national schools. There were several types of horse races and farrier competitions, none of which I had ever seen before. We took Kata's 4-year-old granddaughter who is pony-mad and sat her on a big hay bale for a good view by the race course. The Huculpath is a form of equestrian competition which also became the basis of the breeds' rearing test. It pits the horses against extremely difficult mountainous terrain, incorporating man-made and natural obstacles such as fords, narrow ditches, raised and tilting planks, steep ravines, stream beds and other elements that put horse and rider to the test. The most difficult obstacle seemed to be riding the horses straight into a mobile box and backing out straight without turning around. But from where we were standing, the most exciting bit was fording the Jósva Stream and navigating obstacles along the stream back to the main track. I missed most of the exciting carriage races because I was taking the main sponsors on a tour of the Park (see below). These hi-tech chariots involve both a driver and an assistant standing in the back throwing their weight around turns when needed. The third event was the show jumping. Separate competitions were held for different age groups and levels of skill.
The granddaughter loved the well thought-out programmes in the kid's yurt. Lili painted a real horseshoe to take home, frosted a horseshoe-shaped gingerbread cookie, and made a fire salamander painting with poppy seeds and cornmeal.
Video scenes from the 5th Annual International Hucul Horse Races.
The farrier's competition (I had never even heard the word farrier until I had to translate the poster) had many elements for both student and professional smiths. Even the basic shoeing of the horse involved precise measurements, creativity, a way with the horses themselves, and of course speed against the clock. Competitors had to measure the hoof, clean it, make a horseshoe, and finally fit it. The last part stank incredibly, as the shoe is put on the hoof hot. In order to add a level of difficulty, the "eagle eye" competition gave the farriers 10 seconds to see a random horses hoof and do the
same. Perhaps the most interesting event was the wine bottle opening. Presented with sealed metal boxes, competitors had to forge tools to open the boxes. Then they had to forge a device to cleanly open the bottle of wine contained inside - of course, against the clock.
Video scenes from the 2nd Annual International Farrier Competition
Aggtelek's marketing manager Zsolt and I took the head of Mustad's European business on a short tour of some of Aggtelek National Park's sites, including the MagtArt, Salamander House and Rakoczi Cave. Mustad, the main sponsor of the event is a family-owned operation but with global outreach. This company produces a jaw-dropping enough nails to shoe 120000 horses a day! They also produce enough horseshoes to shoe 50000 horses a day!
Two former Eszterházy estate granary buildings, one in Slovakia and one in Hungary, were renovated at a cost of 2 million Euro (2.6 million USD) by the Hungarian Aggtelek National Park and the Slovakian ALMA-Centre for the Restoration and Protection of Folk Architecture and Traditions within the framework of the Hungarian -Slovakian Cross-Border Cooperation Programme 2007-2013. The granaries, built in Torna County at the end of the 18th century, managed to survive the years and have been named monuments designated for ecotourism.
MagtArt's permanent exhibition features works by such famous nature artists as Alan Sonfist (USA), Ko Seug-hyun (Korea), Liu Po-chun (Taiwan), Pál Péter (Romania), Anke Mellin (Germany), Ahmad Nadalian (Iran), Bukta Imre (Hungary), Erőss István (Hungary), Pokorny Attila http://koby.ro/ (Romania), Szigeti Gábor Csongor (Hungary), Balázs Péter (Hungary), Takács Máté (Hungary), and Tomas Gugyela (Slovakia). Information on the second renovated granary in Slovakia can be found here.
At the entrance to Herd (Ménes) Valley in Szögliget, Aggtelek National Park operates the Salamander House ecotourism base and hostel. Situated on 2.5 hectares (1.5 acres, Salamander House can offer accommodation for up to 60 people. Within the building, there is also a shared lounge, dining room and two equipped kitchens. The area provides an ideal opportunity for camping, field trips and class excursions. Individual guests are also catered to. The hostel lies within the boundaries of Aggtelek National Park at the foot of the hill crowned by Szádvár Castle, and about 2km from the village of Szögliget. Suitable camping spaces can be had for up to 40 people in the protected front yard. As camping is not allowed in the Park, this option should satisfy more nomadic-inclined visitors. The cheap accommodation is ideal for organised camps, use by various educational institutions, and summer nature protection camps. For more information about environmental education possibilities and programmes at the Park, please contact the Manor House Environmental Education Centre.
Rákóczi Cave is accessible via an old iron ore mine and limestone quarry. The tour route takes you back and forth approximately 400 m and lasts about 45 minutes. Perhaps the region's most spectacular cave in the Aggtelek karst, the Rákóczi Cave features a stunningly diverse and colourful number of formations. Remarkable pea-stones and dripstone runoff completely cover the walls. Snow white straw formations and calcite carnations offset the reds, browns and yellows of the cave. The subterranean crystal clear lakes top off a memorable experience.
The granddaughter, walking along and singing to herself by the glacial Tengerszem Lake suddenly turned around and declared that the day was the happiest in her life. That about says it all.