A Rider's Survival from Tyranny
By Charles de Kunffy
Published by Xenophon Press
$29.95 ~ Softcover ~ 127 pages
Reviewed by Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne
On November 6, 1956, Charles de Kunffy set out from his family’s apartment on foot for the nearby riding academy. While walking down the still dark, deserted avenues of Soviet occupied Budapest, he saw a young boy of about six years of age shot and killed by a patrolling Soviet soldier. The child’s crime? Taping a leaflet to the door of the local movie theatre. Horrified at what he had just witnessed and terrified for his own life, de Kunffy blindly kept walking toward the relative safety of the riding academy, expecting at any moment to be killed himself. “And so it happened, that I did not get shot, but I had to watch someone else die,” de Kunffy describes in the introduction to his latest book, A Rider’s Escape from Tyranny. “I reached my horses; riding them helped me live that day.”
Today one of the most acclaimed dressage judges and clinicians in the world, Charles de Kunffy was born and raised in Hungary as a member of the Austro-Hungarian nobility. Narrated with simple dignity interwoven with a thread of dry wit, A Rider’s Escape from Tyranny describes his journey from a privileged childhood through to the unsettled years following the Second World War, during which horses became for him a refuge from the brutal reality of the Soviet occupation of Hungary.
“During terrifying and trying years, horses let me escape into a meditative inner peace,” writes de Kunffy. “They gave me relief from anxiety, unconditional friendship, and affection...When I rode, the world of cares, fears, and hardships fell away.”
The depth of de Kunffy’s respect and gratitude for the horses that touched his life during the early years of his equestrian career is evident in his description of them. From Sator, the chunky, yet nimble, little mare who earned the nickname “My Little Meat,” to Kormend, who spent five years partnered with de Kunffy before going on to compete in the 1960 Olympics with Bandi Bondor, each horse’s story is lovingly told.
Likewise in obviously displayed affection and appreciation are de Kunffy’s accounts of his equestrian teachers and mentors, great masters of classical horsemanship, and the many grooms, riders, and other friends who, along with his horses, sustained de Kunffy during dark times.
Combining a fascinating personal narrative of a turbulent period in 20th century history with valuable nuggets of insight into the classical philosophy of horsemanship, this book’s underlying message of the great influence that horses play in our lives should appeal to any and all horse lovers.
This review originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.