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India's war horse - The Marwari


The Marwari's most distinguishing feature are its lyre-shaped ears, which curve inward. Photo: Princess Trails
The following text is reproduced with kind permission of Princess Trails

Formerly bred for the purpose of war, the Marwari horse has Arab and Turkmeni ancestors and was brought to India by Central-Asian and Muslim invaders. The breed's home is the desert kingdom of Marwar but its popularity soon spread through the whole of Rajasthan. The name means literally 'from the land of death'. Over centuries it was bred in the harsh desert climate of Rajasthan by warring Rajput clans.

  The outcome was a hardy, intelligent horse with great stamina which could thrive on little food and water. The Marwari horse is a medium-sized, elegant horse. Its most distinguishing feature are its lyre-shaped ears, which curve inward and often meet at the tips. Besides providing a sharp hearing, they can be turned by 180 degrees. The Marwari has a longish head with a broad forehead, wide-set and alert eyes and a well-shaped rather small mouth. It is elegantly proportioned with a proud head carried on a well-arched neck. The legs are straight and sound with small and very hard hooves.

The coat of the Marwari horse is silky and often has the metallic shine of the Turkmeni horses. It comes in all colours, including piebald and skewbald. Very popular as well, are the Cremellos, which in Rajasthan are called Nukra. Many Marwari horses are gifted with a ground-covering fourth gait, the so-called Revaal, a kind of amble, which is very comfortable for the rider to sit. It is however not found in all individuals and does not impact the breed standard.

Trained highly in the art of war, the Marwari was known for its bravery on the battlefield. Fighting against elephants the Marwari horse had to stand up on its hind legs and provide the rider with an opportunity of killing the combatant sitting on top of the elephant in its howdah. On the battlefield, horse and warrior had to become one in order to fight and survive, so the Marwari Horse is said to have an extraordinary instinct and the ability to act upon the mere thoughts of the rider. Besides this, it is fiercely loyal and is known for always beeing able to bring his rider home. Its courage and gallantry are the theme of many songs and tales.

The fortunes of the Marwari horses changed with the ascendancy of the British in India. British officers found the Marwari too small and hot tempered, so they imported shiploads of Australian Whalers. They were quick, tough and inexpensive.

  The Maharajas came under British authority and lost the means to keep an army. They turned to luxury and extravagance and copied British ways. Instead of keeping Marwari horses, they bought expensive thoroughbreds or Australian mounts. Having surrendered their very reason d'^etre, India's former kings and nobles lost a fundamental part of their soul and left their heritage and traditions behind. And rather than improve, things got even worse for the Marwari horse after India's independence. Being perceived as a symbol for the despised feudalism, many Marwari horses were castrated, killed and scattered. The breed was neglected for decades and few pure specimen survived.

Finally the Marwari horse was saved by its own people. Local land gentry managed to rescue a few animals and started their own breeding programs. Tourism and horseback-safaris have provided a tremendous boost to the revival of the Rajput culture and ultimately to the future of the Marwari horse. Today there are countless breeders in Rajasthan, Gujarat as well as the Punjab and the prospect of the Marwari horse looks brighter than it has for a long time.

 
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