The Kathiawari Horse gets its name from the peninsula in India where it originates. Also called the Kathiawadi, it is a breed that is directly association with the Kathi Darbar caste. The Kathi, also given their name because of the region where they settled, are believed to be descended from an ancient race that was called the Sura.
According to local traditions, the Sura were descendants of Kush, who was the son of Ram. Although this is a Hindu tradition, there are Christian traditions that are similar to this lineage. In the book of Genesis, after the flood of Noah, one of his sons, called “Ham,” had a first-born son named Cush or Kush.
Further into the Torah, in the book of Numbers, Zipporah, who is the wife of Moses, is described as being a “Cushite” woman.
Historians from the United Kingdom believe that the Kathi are the descendants of a Scythian tribe that settled in the region as early as the 2nd century BC.
With this extensive amount of history in the region, and with horses there from the very beginning, the relationship between humans and the predecessors of the Kathiawari are likely quite extensive. The modern breed was initially created to be a war horse that could handle desert environments, but working horses have been part of this region since Biblical times – and quite possibly even before that.
There was a need for horses that could survive on minimal resources, handle rough terrain, and have a calm disposition. In the past, this allowed for agricultural work to be accomplished. These same traits also make this breed an attractive cavalry mount.
Since 1995, the Kathiawari Horse Breeders’ Association has organized an annual show for this breed.
The History of the Kathiawari Horse
The origin of the Kathiawari Horse is not known. There were herds of horses living in India, including on the Kathiawar peninsula, before the 16th century. When the Mughai Empire was created, Arab horses were brought into the region and then crossed with native horses, which is what is believed to have created the Kathiawari breed.
Additional breeds, such as the Mongolian horse, may also be part of the establishment history of the Kathiawari. This breed is also closely related to the Marwari horse.
In the past, noble households in the region would breed their own horse lineage. The tradition was to name the line of horses after a foundation mare. Nearly 30 of these lines still exist. Many of the noble households would selectively breed horses that could handle difficult desert environment and carry an extraordinary amount weight. There was a need for the horse to be nimble, swift, and sturdy.
Until the India was able to become independent, these noble breeding programs continued to thrive. After independence, however, there wasn’t the need to maintain all the noble lines, so the population numbers of the Kathiawari began to decline. By 2007, only 50 horses were currently in the possession of private breeders.
There are currently 11 locations in India where Kathiawari horses are bred and all are maintained by the Gujarat government. Only one of these farms is specifically dedicated to the preservation of the Kathiawari as a breed. The others keep pure-bred Kathiawari stallions, but their purpose is to improve other local breeds instead of preserving their own breed.
Today’s population is estimated to be about 7,500 horses. Breed standards and characteristics were not formalized until 2008. It should be noted that no breed numbers for the Kathiawari have been reported officially since 1997.
Expected Characteristics of the Kathiawari Horse
Kathiawari horses should stand at least 14.2 hands high, but a height above 15 hands high is thought to be undesirable. Horses that are taller tend to seem coarse compared to their smaller counterparts. Some adults can be more of a pony-type horse, standing 13.3 hands high in some instances.
Despite their average size, the Kathiawari horse is below average in weight. Most stallions struggle to achieve more than 600 pounds.
The coat of the Kathiawari can be either bay, gray, chestnut, or dun. For the horses that are dun, primitive markings are common. Zebra-like stripes on the legs and a dorsal stripe are almost always present. A Kathiawari may also feature skewbald patterning, but never with black. Other solid coat colors, including Palomino and Buckskin, are possible within this breed as well.
The profile of the Kathiwari is concave, offering a broad forehead that comes to a fairly short muzzle. The neck and body are about average in proportion visually to the rest of the horse, though below average in length when compared to other breeds. The horse should carry its head and hail high.
In many ways, there is a close resemblance to the profile of an Arabian when looking at the Kathiawari. It is easy to mistake this breed for the Marwari as well, though the Kathiawari is somewhat shorter and there are some differences in the facial structure.
Soundness is the primary characteristic of the breed, even if some believe the bone structure in the legs is somewhat lacking.
What is distinctive about the Kathiawari is the shape of its ears. This breed has the most curved ears of any breed of horse currently known. This is due to the preservation efforts of breeders over the centuries who wished to focus on this one key trait over other physical traits.
To deal with the desert climate, the Kathiawari has developed a lateral pace that is quite fast. In India, it is referred to as the “revaal.” The standard gaits are also present within this breed.
As for temperament, the Kathiawari is usually intelligent, affectionate, and very spirited. They tend to be somewhat curious and prefer to be busy. This makes them an excellent mount for police officers today and why they were used as war horses in the past.
Influences on the Kathiawari Horse
Before Indian independence occurred in 1947, the peninsula of Kathiawar was divided into several different princely states. Each was ruled by a local potentate. In return for acknowledging the sovereignty of the British, many were granted local sovereignty rights. Together, these princely states comprised what was called the “Kathiawar Agency.”
In the late 19th century and well into 1900, a severe famine affected the region. Although up to 15% of the population decreased because of food shortages, the Kathiawar Horse was able to continue thriving because it can survive at near-starvation feed levels on a consistent basis.
After 1947, when the states acceded to India, the potentate of Junagadh wanted to accede to Pakistan instead. The population rebelled against this action and forced the prince to flee into Pakistan. This led the entire peninsula to merge into India.
Despite having several European influences and being a part of different Indian states in the decades since, the Kathiawari peninsula has remained independent and somewhat isolated as a culture. This has helped the horses in the region to chart their own course as breeders have emphasized unique physical traits and characteristics that best suit their needs.
This means there is a high level of variation within the breed. It also sets up a bright future for the Kathiawari horse, as it is not limited in lineage or genetics as some other breeds tend to be.
Whether the Kathiawari people have been present on their peninsula since the 16th century or since the beginning of recorded time, this region has helped to create one of the most unique breeds the equine world can offer today. With continued good breeding practices, the population numbers should continue to rise, even if local government officials will not release any official data about the current status of the breed.