A rare Indian breed gets support at home and abroad to survive colonialism, caste system bias, and political struggles.
by Kristin Berkery
To survive the arid climate and fierce combat, Marwari horses were bred to be tough, fiery, and courageous, but they can also be described as temperamental and a challenge to handle. They have many similarities to the original desertbred Arabians with their spirited temperaments, physical endurance, arched necks, dry facial features, fine legs, and proud bearing. Not surprisingly, they share common ancestors with Arabians, which were also bred for fierce battle and survival in a desert setting.
Because Arabiansare associated with Islam, predominately Hindu breeders bristle at the thought that their native breed could have Muslim roots.
Editor’s note: While a breed doesn’t have to be discovered by other nations to survive and become popular, that exposure certainly helps and actually provides more resources and support to native breeders to build their breeding programs. The intention of this article isn’t to say that the Marwari needed Westerners to survive, it’s to point out that the Marwari didn’t have the wide exposure the Arabian had, so therefore it didn’t expand around the world like the Arabian.
The most recognizable trait of Marwari horses is, of course, their curved ears. They have other characteristics they don’t share with their Arabian cousins: Marwaris can carry the cream gene, which produces palomino, buckskin, and the other cream colors, and the tobiano pinto gene. A form of the sabino gene, which results in high white stockings, wide blazes, and sometimes heavy roaning, is often favored. And of course Marwari horses come in the base colors of bay, chestnut, grey, and black. Solid white Marwaris, which are not albino but possibly an extreme form of sabino, are often used in religious ceremonies in India.
Many Marwari horses are trained in a native form of haute école, similar to the Spanish Riding School techniques, to perform as “dancing horses” at ceremonial events, particularly weddings.
Most likely descended from native ponies crossed with Arabians, the Marwari’s origins have created controversy among their owners in India. Because Arabians are associated with Islam, predominately Hindu breeders bristle at the thought that their native breed could have Muslim roots.
The dancing stallion in the video above is also pictured at the top of this article. He starts performing about 1 minute into the video.
There are still many barriers to taking Marwaris out of India. It’s now possible for indigenous horses to leave only if the exporter agrees to return them to India after a year. Since the costs associated with transporting horses around the world are so high, few people choose this option. In addition, the European Union has banned exporting any horse directly from India to the European continent. The U.S. accepts Marwari imports, but they must test negative for the tick-borne blood disease piroplasmosis multiple times before they can enter the country. Unfortunately many Marwari horses are carriers for piroplasmosis and the disease is notoriously difficult to eradicate from a horse’s system.
Fortunately, there are growing numbers of Marwari breeders in India making a concerted effort to save this rare breed from extinction. You can see several beautiful photos of Marwaris in their native environment at the Indigenous Horses of India blog. One of Francesca Kelly’s Marwaris can be seen among the Horses of the World at Kentucky Horse Park. Photographer Christiane Slawik has several photos of Marwaris and Marwari crosses, which she calls “India’s Best Kept Secret.”
Watch a clip of a Marwari doing a revaal gait below.