The "National Gallop"

The word "vágta" literally translates as gallop, and this event does indeed have at its heart a horse race - as riders in costumes from the olden days, race at breakneck speed around a course to the cheers of an appreciative crowd. There are many such events at towns across the country through the summer months, but none capture the imagination quite like the Nemzeti Vágta, or so-called „National Gallop."

In 2013, the race took place on the 20th-22nd September. It was the the 6th National Gallop in Heroes' Square. Also held at the same time, was the European Horse Carriage Driving Championships in the nearby Budapest City Park, but the two events seemed not to disturb each other. This free event focuses on the historic horse race which the competitors have been working towards for weeks and months in advance. The official goal of the event is "to reaffirm and renew the nation's equine traditions and to pass on this cultural heritage." Similarly artisans create traditional crafts for display to the public, and cooks make traditional dishes for gastronomes and lovers of country cuisine.

The riders competing in the national gallop  were whittled down in regional heats of the competition held across the country from May until August, in order to make it to the final cut, each one will be eager to win the first prize and glory for their town or village, similar to the Palio race in Sienna in Italy.

The winners:

The 2013 winners were János Nemeth, from Baja, with his horse, "My Boy Mennydörgés" (meaning: thunderclap)

 The racetrack itself is quite prestigious and unusual, being constructed specially for the event and taken down afterwards. The race circuits around the heroes square monuments and right across the road junctions thereabouts, though of course the road surfaces is covered in tons of sand to create a firm, safe course for horse-racing.   

In between the qualifying rounds of the main event, lots of things are going on: the beautiful dressage, celebrity race, chariot races and children's' race (little hussar gallop), ladies races and the cart-pushing competition.

It's free to attend, though there is usually a charge for the VIP grandstand area with the best view. It is easy to reach by public transport, (yellow Metro line 1 to heroes square) and there is lots to see, on and off the course!