ORIGINS of theMarwari
The earliest origin of the Marwari horse may have been in the areas to the north-west of India, on the borders of Afghanistan ? in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and particularly in Turkmenistan. If the breed’s ancestors came from these regions, it may have a link with the Mongolian horse as well as with the Arab-type strains that predominate in northern Iran and the steppe lands north of the Black and Caspian seas. The Marwari bears a definite resemblance to the horses of Turkmenistan and the adjacent territories, although none of those breeds have the Marwari horse’s distinctive, curving ears.
When the Moghuls conquered northern India in the early 16th century, they brought Turkmene-type horses to the area now called Rajasthan, and it is extremely likely that these were used to supplement the Rajput stock. There must also be a connection with the Kathiawari breed of Gujerat which is the neighbor of the Marwari, and as a consequence there is the possibility of more Arab influence from that source, although the Marwari horses retain their own distinctive and recognizable character.
The development of the Marwari horse was encouraged by the Rathores, the traditional rulers of Marwar, who kept the finest stallions for the use of their subjects and were carrying out a policy of strict selective breeding as early as the 12th century.
For centuries, before and after the Moghul Empire was founded in 1526, the Indian princes were almost constantly at war with their neighbors. In 1193 the Rathores lost their Kingdom of Kanauj. To regroup, they withdrew to the most inhospitable and remote areas of western India ? the Great Indian and Thar deserts.
The possession of horses was vital to their existence, and, like the outcast Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arabian Bedu people they bred horses selectively to survive, thrive, and operate effectively in the desert environment. This period gave rise to legends about the breed’s endurance, courage, and loyalty, which have become part of the Rajput tradition. The most famous is the story of Chetak, who is commemorated in the altar at Haldi Ghati, the Chetak Chabutra, and in statuary and paintings.
Chetak was the mount of Maharana Pratap of Mewar, and at the battle of Haldi Ghati in 1576 the pair attacked the commander of Akbar’s forces, Raja Man Singh, in the howdah of his war-elephant. In a stupendous leap, the equivalent of the High School capriole, Chetak enabled his rider to strike at Man Singh with his lance. The thrust missed but the attack was pressed home with Chetak striking the elephant’s head with his forefeet. In the melee, however, Chetak’s fetlock was slashed off at the joint. Hotly pursued, Chetak galloped on three legs, ensuring his master’s escape by a last enormous leap over the gorge at Haldi Ghati, where this remarkable horse died, his head in the arms of his master.
Today, there is a Chetak Horse Society, and a Horse Fair held at Haldi Ghati. By the 1930s, however, the breed had deteriorated and was saved only by the intervention of the Maharaja Umaid Singhji, a work continued energetically by his grandson, the present Maharaja Gaj Singh II. A Marwar Horse and Cattle Show is held annually, and there is an active Marwari breeders’ association.
The best examples of the modern Marwari stand at about 1.50 m (14.3 hh) and are very elegant. This breed is strong, wiry, and well-muscled, with long limbs and very hard feet that rarely need to be shod except in the stoniest areas. The Marwari often has the natural pacing gait, known as revaal, which is a feature of many Asian strains, anc the tradition of “High School” leaps, far older than that of Europe, is still retained, with performances given at fairs and events.
As with the Kathiawari, great importance is attached to the position of hair whorls on the horse’s body. There is also a particular way of determining the correct proportions of the Marwari, based on the width of a finger, which is said to equal five grains of barley. For instance, the length of the face, from the poll to the upper lip, may vary between 28 and 40 fingers, and four times the length of the face is equal to the length from the poll to the dock.