Marwari, horses beyond legend
Curled ears and millennial history. Horses in India are a cultural heritage
In early 2018, I went on a two-month long equine odyssey in ancient India. I am a horse rider myself and had heard rumours of a charismatic breed called the Marwari, an ancient warhorse linked to the Arabian line famous for their curled-in ears.
Images of 12th Century Marwar rulers riding in a flurry of sand and sweat across ancient desert landscapes flooded my mind before I arrived to India.
Upon arrival to the densely populated Delhi though, it was hard for me to continue imagining the regal vision the Marwari Horse had to offer.
Bombarded by honking rickshaw horns, intense smells, polluted cities and male-dominated public spaces, it was a complicated journey travelling alone to find the rare horses. But I eventually made a few friends in the horse world, mainly through the use of the not-so-exotic Facebook, which connected me with owners from both luxurious and royal backgrounds, as well as more modest dwellings.
Internationally, horses are synonymous with success, and egos running around their human compatriots are high. Horses are often kept as status symbols, while others are meant for riding. This is something I had witnessed in North America, but had no idea it could be similar in India.
For example, generally in the Punjab region, horses seemed to be kept more as show ponies or halter competition horses, and they often had no saddle training. Yet in Rajasthan – the true birthplace of the Marwari – and especially its Marwar region, the Jodhpur area, the horses were put to more practical uses.
Most of the Marwari horses I met belonged to the Indian nobility. I met with royal families and upper class folk around Northern India, who showed me their prized gems and allowed me generously into their households.
I learned the Marwari’s had been mocked by the British during the Raj for their cute, curly ears. In the eyes of some, these ears present a contrary image to a warhorse, rath- er a soft and cuddly image a 6-year old girl would drool over. Yet their ears — allegedly evolved for survival in their ability to deflect sand — can hear sounds from all sides while they rotate a near 360 degrees.
Legends of ancient Rathores who rode these horses into battle, testing their abilities to withstand hard heat and little access to water, have fascinated noble men today. Yet, despite the hardiness of this breed, Marwari’s faced a near extinction after the Raj, and it was not until the 90’s that a few key members of the royal family resurrected the breed.
These magnificent horses were a portal into two worlds within India: the country’s ancient past and its inequality.
In a country many associate with abuse against women, poverty, child marriage and, more recently, religious divide, these magical creatures, a symbol of beauty and freedom, are also a symbol of expendable income, which only a fraction of the country’s population can afford.
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