Violaine on Mahakal in 2013 at the Jappaloup competition in Pune, the first time a Marwari horse won a dressage competition
Violaine Boulogne is a French horse trainer who spends a lot of her time training Marwari horses in Rajasthan. She is also involved in the equine industry in various countries across the world, including teaching riding in Lebanon as well as doing consultancy work in several European countries. She is one of the very few female horse trainers in India and probably the only one who specialises in Marwari horses. We catch up with her ahead of the Gallops of India Marwari horse raid to find out what she thinks about that little-known breed of indigenous Indian horse.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I have been around horses since I was a child. My parents owned show-jumping horses but a big part of my equestrian training was done by people with a strong dressage background, such as Marie-Christine Hugonet, an eventing champion, and Jean Marie Donard both of whom were at the famous French Saumur establishment. Once I passed my BEES (government recognised trainer certificate) in 2004, I taught show jumping, dressage, horse aerobatic as well as carriage driving.
How did you find out about the Marwari breed?
I discovered the breed on Facebook. I had never heard about it before and was extremely curious. The first real Marwari I met was in Spain, one of three which had been imported from the US.
The owner of these Marwaris took me to India in 2010 where I spent three weeks visiting Rajasthan. I noticed that most Marwari horses weren’t being used for anything. When I offered my services to train them for dressage I was consistently told that these horses were "too crazy". A year later, a breeder from Mumbai asked me to train a little black 4-year old Marwari stallion called Mahakal. With only one month of training, Mahakal won a dressage competition, defeating a warmblood from Germany. This was the first time a Marwari horse had won a dressage competition! I was amazed how fast he (as well as the other mares and stallions I was training at the time) learnt! I think this also really contributed to changing the opinion people have of Marwaris.
The Maharaja of Jodhpur invited Violaine and Mahakal to demonstrate at the Jodhpur Horse Show
Do you have projects with Marwaris other than dressage?
I work with a friend to promote his Marwari safaris in Rajasthan. This means I often take groups on rides. Next year in March we are welcoming the Gallops of India - a luxury horse race done in teams. The previous events were in Morocco and Oman. The March one will be a big step towards promoting the Marwari horse breed, bringing hundreds of people from all over the world to participate or watch. I will be in charge of training these horses.
How would you describe the personality of the Marwari horse?
They are very brave, curious and loyal as long as you respect them. They can be stubborn and they usually will test you at some point or another but they are not mean unless they have been treated badly. But this goes for all horses. They are often compared to Arabs because both breeds are from the desert but I find them more similar to Iberian horses, which are less emotional than Arab horses.
Violaine doing liberty work with Mahakal
What are the Marwari’s strong points? And his weaknesses?
Their bravery and curiosity make them forward going as well as very steady on their feet. Unfortunately, they often have a weak and short back which gives them short strides - not ideal for jumping, dressage or even endurance. This is mainly because of the way they have been bred over the years.
There is a rumour that the Indian government may re-open the export of Marwari horses next year. Do you think they could be popular in Europe?
We’ve been hearing this for over three years now… I think they could be popular but the challenge will be: at what price? European riders want to compete and they are unlikely to spend EUR 3,000 (which is the price of the few Marwaris already in Europe) for a horse that will probably not be able to show at a very high level. For that price, you will find a good horse that can jump 1m30. Eventually, however, I expect good European breeders will be able to improve the breed. Also, if more horses are imported they are likely to become cheaper.
Has it been hard to be one of the few women in a very much man-dominated world?
The thing that I find the hardest, actually, is that many people don’t understand that it takes years to train a horse properly. You rarely see horses younger than 9 years at the Olympics for a reason. But people here are not always convinced. Luckily, there are more and more women learning how to ride. Unfortunately, there is a lack of properly trainers instructors.
Violaine on Ranvir, a Marwari stallion that was eventually sold to one of the richest men in India
Do you plan to stay much longer in India? Where would you recommend travellers go?
India feels like my second home, not to say my first! I wish I could stay all year round! My favourite cities are in Rajasthan: Jodhpur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaipur. It’s a journey back in time.