The Government of India identifies 5 breeds of horses indigenous to India; the Marwari, Kathiawari, Manipuri, Spiti and Zanskari.
The regions of Marwar (Rajasthan) and Kathiawar (Gujarat), situated in the North West of India, are the homes of the Marwari and Kathiawari breeds respectively. These two breeds share the unique lyre shaped ears.
Depicted in history, the most famous story is of Rana Pratap and his unflinching and brave Marwari or Kathiawari war horse ‘Chetak’ at the Battle of Haldighati. There are also many depictions of the breeds in ancient versions of the Indian sanskrit Horse Medicine Book ‘Shalihotra’.
The breeds have gone from being exalted, to almost being forgotten with the introduction of the Thoroughbred in the 1900’s, but luckily today their stamina and uniqueness means they are rising in popularity once more. The breeds true origin is not clear. Currently DNA analysis is being undertaken to shed more light on the matter (see our pilot report on the projects page). What is clear is that the lyre ears are the first feature to change when they are cross bred with other breeds.
Height 15hh to 16hh.
The Marwari Horse has acquired it's name from it's original breeding place, Marwar in Rajasthan.
Easily recognized by their proud carriage, upright graceful neck and distinctive aquiline head with deep expressive eyes, the crowning glory are the unique lyre or scimitar shaped ears set high on the poll, touching at the tip, and without exception unique to this noble Indian horse.
The Marwari horse today is descended from the spendid war horses that served the ruling families and warriors of feudal India. Their status was unparalleled, as they were declared divine and superior to all men, including those of royal blood.
Accordingly, only the Rajput families and the Kshatriyas - warrior castes - were permitted to mount these exalted animals. The exotic beauty and vigour of the Marwari horse is their lasting heritage. They were bred to lift the heart in battle and please the eye.
The intelligence and natural regal bearing of the Marwari is blended with tremendous equipoise, graceful animated gaits and stamina. They display an alert stillness when in repose and incredible spirit in action.
Hardiness and longevity have enabled the breed to survive wars, famine and droughts, as well as to adapt to different lifestyles and environmental conditions and to perform in various sports and formal riding disciplines.
Height 14hh to 15hh.
The Kathiawari has the same history as that of Marwari but having been bred in the Kathiawar region of Gujarat, it acquired that name.
The superintendent of Gaekwar Continent in 1880 suggested that the Kathiawari breed may have sprung from the wild horses of Kathiawar (a sort of Quagga).
Their breeding tract is the Saurashtra province of Gujarat, which comprises the Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Surendranagar, Jungarh and Amreli districts of Gujarat.
Breeding line and environmental differences have given the Kathiawari certain distinctive features that separate it from its cousin the Marwari; they are smaller and more compact in structure.
The physical characteristics of Kathiawari horses are a straight or concave face profile, long neck, short legs and squared quarters.
The face is of diamond profile from the front, triangular from poll to forehead; it has a small muzzle, big nostrils, small fine and curved lyre shaped ears that can rotate 180 degrees, broad forehead and large expressive eyes.
The tail is set high. The foot is round and broad.
The most prominent body colour in Kathiawari horses is dun, chestnut, bay, grey.
These horses are friendly, compliant and smart.
SHORT HISTORY OF THE MARWARI
The true origins of the Marwari horse are lost in the mists and myths of time. So powerful is the legend behind the horse that every deity, from Lord Brahma, creator of the Universe, to Lord Surya, the Sun God, vied for possession and ownership, ultimately leading to the creation of a full-blown cult.
Popular opinion asserts that the horse materialised into the Indian consciousness at the dawn of the Vedic era, around 2000 B.C. Great kings associated themselves with these horses, enhancing the power and prestige of the warrior clans. Considered divine creatures, blessed by the gods and exalted by kings, the Marwari horse found his rightful place as the noblest of war horses.
Famous for their fearlessness and lust for conquest, the warrior races of the Rajputana chose the Marwari for their steel and passion, proud bearing and noble, unmistakably dignity. Deceptively docile, their penetrating gaze betrays their vast reserves of strength and resilience.
The brave long-limbed and muscular Marwari were trained to survive long hours under saddle in harsh desert environment, thrive on scant water and rations, face death fearlessly and defend their masters in the thick of battle. Their fine silky coat helps to keep them cool during the long summer months while their long lashes protect their eyes from sandstorms.
Unique to the breed are their beautifully curved, lyre-shaped ears which not only pick up the slightest sound, but can be turned a full 180 degrees backwards to avoid sand entering while charging forward at full gallop. This trait also attests to the purity of the breed and is the first characteristic to be lost when interbreeding occurs.
Over the centuries the Marwari - their name literally means "from the land of death", such was the terror they instilled in their enemies - became the favourites of many rulers, from the Rathore Rajputs in Rajputana to the notorious Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, known as the Lion of Punjab.
They fought valiantly in battles from the third century onwards, distinguishing themselves for their bravery, courage and daring. Bedecked and bejewelled by their masters, they were respected and loved by all clan members, men and women alike. When Laili Ranjit Singh's favourite mare died in 1837, he ordered a 21-gun salute for her funeral and wept unashamedly.
The Marwari fought their last battle with General Allenby in 1917 in Haifa as part of the Jodhpur-Mysore-Gwalior-Jaipur lancers, presently known in India as the 61st Cavalry Regiment, the only "horse" cavalry regiment in the world today.
Redundancy and near-extinction of the breed can be credited to the British who found them too meddlesome. The fortunes of the Marwari ebbed to its lowest point in 1947 when, on behalf of the interim Indian Government, Patel persuaded the rulers to sign away their royal rights. Following the land-owning abolition act, noblemen were further deprived of the means to support their animals. Thousands were shot, castrated or pressed into service by the Dacoits. From celestial messenger and glory of the high-born, the Marwari became beasts of burden. When in 1952 the first free democratic elections were held, the Government felt justified in wiping out all traces of the ruling classes. This included the Marwari horse which was too powerful a symbol and inextricably linked to the values and excesses of the fallen monarchies. Indigenous horse husbandry in the 50's was totally neglected and the Marwari was consigned to oblivion.
Redemption, albeit partial and piecemeal, came from its own people who had many a rough diamond hidden away in their humble homes in the farmlands of Rajasthan. In the late nineties, after the founding of the Indigenous Horse Society of India by Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod and other philanthropic horse-lovers, the Governments of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat did initiate projects to protect and upgrade their Indigenous breeds. Landed gentry and the nouveau riche began to take renewed interest in breeding, often very successfully, boosting the ancient Rajput culture and often saving their family homes from ruin and destruction.
To continue the invaluable efforts and unflinching dedication of these visionaries will require a global response by horse lovers and breeders all over the world. Nothing less than the concerted and wholehearted commitment of the equestrian community, both in India and overseas, is needed to overcome the disinterest currently manifest by the Government of India towards this precious yet precarious heritage that for so many centuries has contributed to the power and wealth of the nation that India is today.
Hardiness and longevity have enabled the breeds to survive wars, famine and droughts, they have proved their adaptability, especially in all riding disciplines which is where they are excelling today. Their intelligence is blended with tremendous poise, stamina, and with graceful animated gaits. The breeds are seeing a resurgence of popularity in the following disciplines:
Indian Marriage horses
The Marwari breed is also similar to the Akhal Teke horse breed from Turkmenistan and our recent DNA analysis is showing the Marwari and the Akhal Teke are close together in the horse DNA group. Find out more about the Akhal Teke by the Team Teke GB website www.team-teke.co.uk and also www.kyzyltekes.co.uk