Riding with the cowboys of the Hungarian Puszta

By Tom Ford
Feb 13 2017, 11:07 am

Riding with the cowboys of the Hungarian Puszta

‘Pictures, or it didn’t happen’. A phrase that crops up when there’s an entire generation constantly equipped with a camera. But there’s a huge difference between a snap and a photograph – a phone camera operator and a proper photographer.

We drank some local liquor – not sure what, and the next few days were a bit of a blur…

Over the years, I’ve worked with lots of exceptional photographers, but one that I always love working with is the irascible, wonderful Justin Leighton. He’s the one responsible for the images you see here, of the cowboys of the Hungarian Puszta.

Not sure how this one came about, to be honest: Justin and I travelling somewhere on yet another multi-hour cross-continental drive, him mentioning these guys, me building a Toyota Hilux with new suspension, a two man, roof-mounted tent, winches and almost an entire catalogue of bolt-on spare parts.

Then we just… drove to Hungary. A gang of men in a BMW 7-series tried to carjack us on a motorway just outside Budapest – we got the car mildly stuck in an underground carpark trying to hide it – and there was a strange incident with an old woman giving me a Hungarian edition of Wordsworthian poetry. Then we found out our translator was, in fact, a lady when we had expected a man. Only an issue when you realise we were supposed to be sleeping in the tent together.

But that wasn’t even the start of it. We ended up camped on the featureless Puszta – a kind of endless grassland steppe – waiting for semi-nomadic European cowboys to come to meet us: they didn’t have watches, so it had to be a fairly wide margin.

And then they appeared, riding their horses standing up. They then commenced to show us their riding mastery, and horses that acted more like dogs – sitting down at command (they were used by rebels as mobile cover from rifles), lying flat when needed, acquiescing to being ridden two at a time with one cowboy stood on two equine backs. Truly a bizarre and wonderful experience.

We then drank some local liquor – not sure what, and the next few days were a bit of a blur. As was the two-day, one-shot drive back to the UK. Tired? You have no idea…

Pics: Justin Leighton, first published by Top Gear magazine

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