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The legend of the Marwari horse

About one thousand years ago, a ship carrying exceptionally beautiful Arabian stallions sunk near the Indian west coast. The strongest and luckiest of the horses managed to swim to the coast where they were found by the Rathore rulers of Marwar in what is today’s Rajasthan. The rulers were exceptional horsemen themselves. Conquered by the stallions’ beauty, they captured the Arabians and brought them back to their kingdom where they bred them with their existing flock made of strong, resilient ponies that were descendants of horses brought by conquerors from Afghanistan and Mongolia. The Marwari, and its curly tipped ears that touch in the shape of a heart was born.

Thanks to its majestic characteristics and brave heart, the Marwari horse quickly became the key second half to the warriors in battle. It came to be viewed as a divine being which could only be ridden by those from the warrior caste. It was said that the Marwari would fight with its owner to the death on the battle field, only leaving to save an injured rider.

Folk songs today still commemorate the Marwari stallion Chetak which, in the 16th Century, is said to have carried the King of Mewar out of battle field into safety. Chetak had a broken leg but still managed to climb a 10 feet wall and save his master, dying later from its wounds.

When the British took over they did their best to destroy the breed as part of their attempt to subjugate the local rulers - it was too strong and powerful. Instead, they brought in horses from England and Australia. By the time Independence came, most of the well established Marwari blood lines had become extinct or lost track of. Ironically, the descendants of the best stallions were being used in farms as working horses. At the same time, the ruling families who used to breed Marwaris had lost most of their privileges and land. It would take several decades until the Marwari made a comeback.

This is the legend of the Marwari horses as the people of North India like to tell it. Accounts differ depending on who you ask, and how inspired the story teller is but the main lines are there.

Interestingly, recent scientific evidence could be the proof that the Marwari’s history is even more impressive than its legend suggests. DNA tests suggest that the Marwari may not, after all, be a descendant of Arabian and Mongol horses but may actually come from a much older breed which is indigenous to India. Local experts say that the mention of horses in ancients texts corroborates this argument. This ancestral horse would also be the original line of the Arabian, as well as other regional breeds such as the Akal-Teke, Sindhi, Kathiawari, Mongolian, Turkeman. If this is indeed the case, it would make the Marwari one of the oldest known breeds of horses.

Despite its distinguished past, the Marwari is poorly known outside of India because exportation has been banned for several decades. This means that, except for a very few, you will only find that breed in India.

Today, the Marwari is mainly used for safaris in Rajasthan, ceremonies for which it has been taught to dance and to carry grooms to their brides during weddings. Probably as a result of the colonial legacy, there are still many who view the Marwari as an inferior breed, temperamental, hard to train and who prefer other horses of foreign origin. There is a growing nucleus of people, however, who are dedicated to promoting the Marwari breed. And with talk that the exports might be allowed again, we may see this illustrious breed start to win over the minds and hearts of equestrians all over the world.

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