Many of Europe's most famous breeds of horses were nearly wiped out as a result of the two world wars that ravaged the continent during the twentieth century. But none perhaps came so close to the brink as the Hungarian Warmblood. In a story that sounds like it was made for the big screen, the breed was saved by no less a personage than General Patton, in addition to two Hungarian Countesses who made their own daring escapes to the United States after World War II and other enthusiasts of the breed.
The history of horses in Hungary is nearly as old as the beginnings of domesticated horses, as they had been bred in this area as early as the ninth century. Over the centuries, blood was added to the breed to improve its speed or stamina or height. In the 17th century, Spanish blood was introduced to increase speed and the Thoroughbred in the 18th century to refine the horse. The Hungarian Warmblood itself was a combination of the different breeds that were native to the country. These horses were bred specifically to be mounted cavalry horses and were also well known for their carriage work. Even as late as the early 20th century, the Hungarian bred with the native Kisber crosses were well known for sport and driving.
But once the Second World War hit, the breed was nearly lost altogether, due to starving soldiers slaughtering the horses for meat. Those that survived were also under threat of being lost behind the Iron Curtain that fell over Eastern Europe after the end of World War II. This is how fate, and the US Army, intervened to help save the Hungarian Warmblood from extinction. The Hungarian State Stud had been displaced in order to avoid capture, but the horses came under the eye of the famous American General Patton, who made sure that the horses were moved to an area that would be occupied by the Americans. Once they were safely in Occupied Germany, the Chief of the US Remount Service, Colonel Hamilton, selected a group of Hungarians to be sent to America to improve the breeding stock of the US Remount Breeding Program.
In another twist of fate, the US Remount Program was disbanded in 1949. Luckily, the Hungarians were all purchased by ranchers that saw the great potential for the horses as hard workers and they all found good homes, notably with ranchers Jim Edwards in Montana and Steve Cooksley in Nebraska. Two Countesses also managed to get out of Hungary just in time, and managed to save Hungarian Warmbloods along the way. Countess Judith Gyurky was a breeder that actually walked across the border during the war in a desperate bid to save her horses. She began with sixty and finally made it to America with only thirteen, where she established a farm in Virginia. Countess Margit Bessenyey was eligible for refuge in the United States thanks to her mother's American citizenship, and she set up her Bitteroot Stock Farm in Montana, where she bred Hungarians she imported herself and with the help of Temple Smith.
Again, it was purely by chance that the two parties, being the ranchers and the countesses, ever met. Countess Bessenyey was taking a country drive one day when she saw a stallion belonging to Edwards standing in a field. Recognizing the stallion as Hungarian Warmblood Honpolgar IV, she nearly totaled her car by driving into a ditch before she leaped over the fence and found herself face to face with the stallion. Edwards, who saw the whole thing, came out to meet the Countess, and the rest is history. The Hungarian Horse Association of America was established in 1966, which has since dedicated itself to preserving and promoting this versatile horse with the fairy tale story.