Breeding half breds by crossing Thoroughbreds with other breeds, is well-established on the sub-continent. Half-breds in India are produced mainly by the Indian army studs, which are responsible for supplying troop horses to cavalry units and sometimes also to mounted formations in the police force. These horses are also bred at private establishments, and many are sold at the various horse fairs that are held in northern and western India. Some of the animals bred at the Indian studs have been successfully sold abroad, to the United Arab Emirates and other states bordering the Arabian Gulf.
During the 19th century Indian cavalry at first made use of predominantly Arab-type horses, then later switched to the bigger Australian Waler , which was generally regarded as the world’s finest cavalry horse. Today, there is little, if any, sign of the Arab horse, although at one time, in the years immediately following the First World War, races for Arabs were staged at the principal Indian racecourses, especially in western India at Bombay, Poona (Pune), and Bangalore. Similarly, the importation of Australian horses has long since ceased. Therefore, in the absence of any indigenous horse breeds other than the Kathiawari and its neighbour the Marwari , India has formulated a horse-breeding policy that is dependent on imported stock, particularly the English Thoroughbred.
Thoroughbred horses can adapt to the Indian climate more easily than, for instance, warmblood breeds, and when crossed with carefully selected mares they produce troop horses that are well-suited to the country. One example was the stallion Thomas Jefferson, imported from the UK, who was used successfully at Babugarh and Saharanpur for several years. Following the partition of the sub-continent between India and Pakistan in
1947, India kept eight British and four French Thoroughbreds, and these horses provided the base for future breeding.
The army’s breeding policy was further developed, in order to produce mules, troop horses, and high-quality competition horses. Some fine Polish mares, of the Masuren and Malapolski types, were used. These were good riding horses and typically Polish in character, with well-made shoulders and limbs, and many of them would have carried a significant percentage of Thoroughbred and Arab blood. Argentine mares have also played a part, as well as the active French Bretons , which were used to produce mules. At one time, Bretons at the Saharanpur horse depot were mated with the old Anglo-Arab horse Mystere, who had an excellent breeding record, to produce some substantial, upstanding carriage horses. Haflingers have been used for mule production, but in general they adapt to the climate less satisfactorily.
THE MODERN HALF-BRED
India is not an ideal country for breeding and raising horses, and there is always the possibility of stock degenerating as a result of the harsh climate, deficiencies of natural minerals in the soil, food shortages, and so on. Nonetheless, the modern Indian half-bred is a much improved horse, and although it sometimes varies a little in type, some specimens are very good indeed. Halfbreds are, naturally, medium-sized animals of a hard, wiry sort. They have ample bone, as well as legs and feet that will stand up to continual work on hard ground. In addition. they are both hardy and enduring.
The high standard of horses produced at the army studs undoubtedly results from management of an equally high order. At Saharanpur, for instance, the young horses run in and out of the paddocks at liberty. They are well-fed on carefully balanced rations, and are not broken in until they are four-year-olds. The training period lasts for nine months, and progress is carefully checked each month.
The Indian Army still maintains a significant number of mounted units as well as animal transport companies, while police forces continue to support mounted branches in the towns and cities as well as in the more remote country areas. These purposes are fulfilled by the product of the army studs, but a percentage of the horses find their way to civilian riding clubs in the cities. Increasingly, too, as India and its horsemen became more involved in competitive sports at home and abroad, excellent, tough half- and three-quarter-bred horses are produced for the recognized competitive disciplines.