The Marwari Horse, sometimes referred to as the Malani, comes from the Jodhpur or Marwar region of India. The first to breed this horse were the Rathores, who were the traditional rulers in that region of the country. Beginning as early as the 12th century, breeding standards were put into place to ensure the Marwari would be a horse that was hardy and pure.
Throughout much of its early history, the Marwari Horse was used in the cavalry. The calmness and loyalty it shows made it a useful horse for agricultural and transportation purposes as well, though only the ruling and wealthy classes were able to afford these horses.
For about 700 years, the trajectory of the Marwari Horse seemed bright. Then, in the 1930s, poor breeding and management practices began to be used so that the traits of the Marwari could be more accessible to the general population. It resulted in a great reduction of purebred horses until the breed became endangered.
In 1995, a breed society was formed in India as an effort to protect this beautiful and unique breed. Population numbers are continuing to grow and some export and limited travel visas have helped to let others outside of India begin to get to know this wonderful horse.
What is the Origin of the Marwari Horse?
The story of the Marwari Horse begins when Arabian horses were introduced to the region and bred with the local ponies. Although the ponies of the Marwar region were known to be hardy, they were quite small and didn’t have an established conformation. When the Arabian bloodlines were introduced, the appearance of the horses was improved while the natural hardiness of the breed was maintained.
How the Arabian horses came to Marwar is up for debate. Local legends tell the tale of a cargo ship wrecking off the coast that carried 7 Arabian horses that were fit for breeding. Once those horses were rescued, they were taken to Marwari to be used as foundation stock to establish the Marwari Horse.
Other stories tell of Mongolian invaders trying to establish themselves in the Marwar region through battle. After being driven away, some of the horses of the invaders remained and the locals claimed them to begin improving the bloodlines of their local horses.
These actions occurred before the 12th century.
The Rathores claimed power in Marwar in 1194 and ruled until the Princely States with the Dominion of India in 1948. They had been forced from the Kingdom of Kanauj the year before and withdrew to Marwari for their survival. The local horses helped them be able to handle the difficult environment, so they bred the horses to keep specific hardy traits that would help them grow in this new area.
In the 16th century, the Moguls came into India and captured much of the northern portions of it. Turkoman horses are believed to have been introduced into the bloodlines at this point, supplementing the traditional breeding practices to produce horses that were capable of war. To expel the invaders, a cavalry force of more than 50,000 men, all on horseback, began the counter-attack that would eventually repel the invasion.
Marwari horses were used in times of war up until World War I. Their responsiveness on the battlefield is legendary. Part of this is due to the expectations of the Rathores for these horses. A horse was not allowed to leave the battle unless one of three conditions were met: victory, death, or removing a wounded soldier to safety.
After World War II, much of the nobility in the region began to lose their lands. This meant a lack of ability to take care of their horses. Without the need to even own the horse, many were killed or sold as pack horses. In these dark years, Maharaja Umaid Singhji is singularly credited with saving the breed.
Since 2009, a registration process has been in place to register Marwari horses for a stud book. It is a venture that is being run collaboratively between the Marwari Horse Society of India and the Indian government.
Today, the Marwari Horse is primarily used for recreational, ceremonial, and religious purposes. Some horses participate in sporting events and there are a few that are used for safari adventures. Local cavalry units still maintain a few horses, though there are more playing polo than there are those who are being trained for military needs.
What Are the Characteristics of the Marwari Horse?
The primary characteristic of the Marwari Horse are the ears. They stand tall and upright, but also turn inward instead of outward. The horses can rotate their ears a full 180 degrees.
Most of the individuals of this breed stand between 14.2-15.2 hands high. The few Marwari that live outside of India tend to be a little taller or smaller, with a range between 14-16 hands high.
Most coat colors are available within this breed, although the most common coats are chestnut, bay, or gray. Piebald, skewbald, and palomino are uncommon, but seen with some regularity. Gray horses tend to be the most valuable in India, while skewbald and piebald coats tend to be favored the most.
Black coat colors are also possible, but because this color is representative of death in the home region of the horse, it is not favored.
Hair whorls occur frequently within the breed and are an important point of breeding. Horses with specific whorls down the neck are thought to be lucky and will fetch a better price on the market. Whorls on the fetlocks are also highly prized. Any whorls around the eyes are unpopular and can make it difficult to sell the horse.
The Marwari Horse looks slightly Roman in its appearance, it should have pronounced withers, a chest that is deep, muscular, and broad, with angled shoulders to support clean lines. The back is noticeably long and the croup should slope slightly. The breed is supported by hooves that are below average for its size, on slender legs, but with a certain sure-footedness.
The Marwari is a loyal horse, but its temperament can be somewhat unpredictable. Some individuals within this breed can be unpredictable. They are known for being quite tenacious.
Within the breed are the characteristics of an extinct bloodline that was known as the Natchni. These horses could perform complex leaping and dancing movements with unique gaits. Marwari that can be trained in these skills and have the traditional gaits are extremely popular in the rural areas of Marwar.
The Marwari Horse has a unique appearance, an established history, and is one of the most loyal breeds one can find in today’s world. Although it was once at the brink of extinction, today the Marwari is growing and thriving once again.