I spent the summer in Hortobagy, Hungary studying endangered Przewalski’s horses for a STAR project. I specifically studied the gastrointestinal parasite load in these horses, since there are only a couple of studies published on this topic. Once I arrived, I met with the manager of the horses in the Hortobagy National Park and spent almost all day, every day for six weeks observing these incredible wild horses on a 5900-acre pasture and collecting fecal samples for same day analysis. The employees there were so kind and helpful even though they hardly spoke English, and gave me comfortable hotel status housing in the visitor’s center. There was definitely a language barrier between us, but the manager was always around to help translate.
Almost every morning the employees picked me up in a jeep and drove to the large park to see the horses. Because the herd was on such a large area of land, sometimes it took much longer, a few hours, to find them because they were hiding behind marshes or in the forest area. Once we found them, I was allowed to get out of the car and sit in the field a good distance away to observe them. I only moved close initially to collect fecal samples. After a week, the horses got pretty comfortable with my presence and allowed me to get within a few feet of them before getting spooked. At the end of the day, the employees drove me back to the visitor’s center, where I analyzed the fecal samples in a classroom with my supplies. It took about three weeks to get all of my supplies so I couldn’t do any fecal analysis during that time. I still used the time to visit the horses and identified some of the horses, especially the stallions with their harems, so that it would be easier to identify the horses when I started actually collecting samples.
I not only got to observe natural wild horse behavior, but I also experienced traditional Hungarian culture. The food was amazing and I wanted to try everything on the menu at least once! On the days when I finished work early, or when the employees were too busy to take me out to the horses, I visited the other animals in the rest of the park. They not only had Przewalski’s horses, but also Hungarian curly-haired pigs, wild asses, oxen, wolves, and a variety of native birds. They also had a large gift shop area that had many interesting homemade toys, clothing, and house décor. On a few weekends I took the train or bus to nearby cities such as Budapest and Eger and learned so much about the country’s history and modern day culture.
This trip was such a great experience for me, especially since I had only travelled once previously. I learned so much about Przewalski’s horses, different cultures, and personal development. Thank you so much International Programs for all of your support!!