J.T. Khanewala of Don’t Hold Your Breath blog commented on a recent post about how life would be different if horses had become extinct. He told me that in Asia the heavy work was done by oxen and there are no draft breeds as there are in the West. For both of us this peaked our curiosity about what breeds of horses there are in India now. I knew there were two that were much prized in the past.
The Kathiawari horse.
These horses were noted for exceptional stamina. They were traditionally bred in Princely houses and often treated as pets. Here is the information I found on Wikipedia about the Kathiawari horse.
The Kathiawari or Kathiawadi (Gujarati: કાઠીયાવાડી) is a breed of horse from the Kathiawar peninsula in western India. It is associated with the Kathi people of that area. It was originally bred as a desert war horse for use over long distances, in rough terrain, on minimal rations. It is closely related to the Marwari horses of Rajasthan; both breeds have been influenced by imported Arab horses. It is found in all colors except for black and is most commonly chestnut. Its numbers diminished after Indian Independence, and today there are few Kathiawaris left. In the past it was used as a war horse and cavalry mount. Today it is used for riding, in harness and for sports it may be used as a police horse and for the sport of tent-pegging. A breed register is kept by the Kathiawari Horse Breeders’ Association, which also organizes annual shows.Wikipedia
The Marwari Horse
Here is the information on the Marwari from Wikipedia
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 the 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 practiced in complex riding maneuvers. Over 300 years later, during the First World War, Marwar lancers under Sir Pratap Singh assisted the British.
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. His work was carried on by his grandson, Maharaja Gaj Singh II.
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.
The government of India had originally banned the export of indigenous horse breeds in 1952. This ban was partially lifted in 1999, when a small number of indigenous horses could be exported after receiving a special license. Kelly imported the first Marwari horse into the United States in 2000. Over the next seven years, 21 horses were exported, until, in 2006, licenses stopped being granted over concerns that native breeding populations were being threatened. One of the last Marwaris to be exported was the first to be imported to Europe, in 2006, when a stallion was given to the French Living Museum of the Horse. In 2008, the Indian government began granting licenses for “temporary exports” of up to one year, to allow horses to be exhibited in other countries. This was in response to breeders and the breed society, who felt they were not being allowed a fair chance to exhibit their animals.Wikipedia
I sincerely hope that both of these breeds will be able to continue to thrive. They are small in stature often not more than 14.3 hh which is almost pony sized. But clearly they are bold and brave.