The Marwari Horse, India

by Susanne Risse [Hidden Trails] 08/12/2011




The Marwari is a rare breed of horse from the Marwar (also called Jodhpur) region of India. The Marwari horse is a medium-sized, elegant horse, which comes in all equine colours, although pinto patterns tend to be the most popular with buyers and breeders.
The most distinguishing features of the Marwari horse 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 Marwari is descended from native Indian ponies crossed with Arabian horses. The ponies were small and hardy, but with poor conformation; the influence of the Arabian blood improved the appearance without compromising the hardiness. The Arabians possibly came ashore from a cargo ship wrecked off India's west coast. Legend in India states that the Arabian ship, containing seven Arabian horses of good breeding, was shipwrecked off the shore of the Kachchh District. These horses were then taken to the Marwar district and used as foundation bloodstock for the Marwari. There is also the possibility of some Mongolian influence from the north. The breed probably originated in northwest India on the Afghanistan border, as well as in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, and takes its name from the Marwar region of India.
The Rathores, rulers of Marwar and successful Rajput cavalry, were the traditional breeders of the Marwari. The Rathores were forced from their Kingdom of Kanauj in 1193, and withdrew into the Great Indian and Thar Deserts. The Marwari was vital to their survival, and during the 12th century they followed strict selective breeding processes, keeping the finest stallions for the use of their subjects. During this time, the horses were considered divine beings, and at times they were only allowed to be ridden by members of the Rajput families and the Kshatriyas warrior caste. When the Moguls captured northern India in the early 16th century they brought Turkoman horses that were probably used to supplement the breeding of the Marwari. Marwaris were renowned during this period for their bravery and courage in battle, as well as their loyalty to their riders. During the late 16th century, the Rajputs of Marwar, under the leadership of Moghul emperor Akbar, formed a cavalry force over 50,000 strong. The Rathores believed that the Marwari horse could only leave a battlefield under one of three conditions – victory, death, or carrying a wounded master to safety. The horses were trained to be extremely responsive in battlefield conditions, and were practised in complex riding maneuvers. Over 300 years later, during the First World War, Marwar lancers under Sir Pratap Singh assisted the British.

1900s to today

The period of the British Raj hastened the Marwari's downfall, as did the eventual independence of India. The British occupiers preferred other breeds, and tried to eliminate the Marwari, along with the Kathiawari. The British instead preferred Thoroughbreds and polo ponies, and reduced the reputation of the Marwari to the point where even the inward-turning ears of the breed were mocked as the "mark of a native horse". During the 1930s the Marwari deteriorated, with breeding stock diminishing and becoming of poorer quality due to poor breeding practices. Indian independence, along with the obsolescence of warriors on horseback, led to a decreased need for the Marwari and many animals were subsequently killed. In the 1950s many Indian noblemen lost their land and hence much of their ability to take care of animals, resulting in many Marwari horses being sold as pack horses, castrated, or killed. The breed was on the verge of extinction until the intervention of Maharaja Umaid Singhji in the first half of the 20th century saved the Marwari, work that was carried on by his grandson, Maharaja Gaj Singh II. As a direct result of indiscriminate breeding practices, as of 2001 only a few thousand purebred Marwaris existed.
A British horsewoman named Francesca Kelly founded a group called Marwari Bloodlines in 1995, with the goal of promoting and preserving the Marwari horse around the world. In 1999, Kelly and Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod, a descendant of Indian nobility, led a group that founded the Indigenous Horse Society of India (of which the Marwari Horse Society is part), a group that works with the government, breeders, and the public to promote and conserve the breed. Kelly and Dunlod also entered and won endurance races at the Indian national equestrian games, convincing the Equestrian Federation of India to sanction a national show for indigenous horses – the first in the country. The pair worked with other experts from the Indigenous Horse Society to develop the first breed standards. Kelly imported the first Marwari horse into the United States in 2000; the first Marwari was exported to Europe in 2006, when a stallion was given to the French Living Museum of the Horse.


Today, the Marwari is used for riding, packing and light draught, and agricultural work. Marwari horses are often crossed with Thoroughbreds to produce a larger horse with more versatility. Despite the fact that the breed is indigenous to the country, cavalry units of the Indian military make little use of the horses, although they are popular in the Jodhpur and Jaipur areas of Rajasthan, India. They are particularly suited to dressage, in part due to a natural tendency to perform.  The Marwari are also used to play polo, sometimes playing against Thoroughbreds.  Within the Marwari breed was a strain known as the Natchni, believed by local people to be "born to dance". Decorated in silver, jewels, and bells, these horses were trained to perform complex prancing and leaping movements at many ceremonies, including weddings.  Although the Natchni strain is extinct today, horses trained in those skills are still in demand in rural India.


Horseback Riding in India

Interested in riding a Marwari? Hidden Trails offers rides in India that use Marwaris as their riding horses.  Please contact Hidden Trails for further information regarding Horseback Riding in India.

Information from this article was referenced from:


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