One of the finest horse breeds of the world today, the elegant Marwari, comes from an ancient Arab-Turkmeni mix lineage, and evolved in the harsh desert climate of the Marwar Region of India.
The Marwari has long been enshrined in the bardic literature of Medieval Rajasthan. The Rajputs, and the Rathore Clan in particular, had arrayed under them a strong, highly-trained cavalry, that had the reputation of never backing down in a fight. The Marwari horse supposedly left the battlefield only after victory, or to carry its wounded owner to safety, or in the event of its own death. The tales of the Marwari's feats and bravery in battle are legendary and still emotionally stirring―it was known not to back down when it came to attacking a war elephant or to leap from the heights of fort battlements. The best known story is perhaps that of Maharana Pratap of Mewar and his loyal steed Chetak. This was the horse that the Maharana rode in the 1546 Haldi Ghat clash against the Mughals. Mortally wounded in the ensuing battle, Chetak still carried his master to safety. It was only then, according to tradition, that this brave creature gave up his life. The grief-stricken king swore to always remember this sacrifice, and some years later, he built a splendid memorial for his magnificent steed. There are many other such tales of the nobility, sacrifice, and incomparable companionship of this breed, and it does not at all seem surprising that this horse should have been so highly valued by the Rajputs over the centuries.
Apart from their undoubted use in battle, Marwaris were excellent horses for hunting and racing. They were also seen in the polo fields and in traditional Hindu weddings. Albino Marwaris were considered priceless, and were used in religious ceremonies.
With the advent of British rule in India, things changed. The British, with their contemptuous attitude towards all things Indian, showed a marked preference for European thoroughbreds over the Indian breeds, and, as the descendants of the once-proud Rajput Maharanas appeared anxious to appease the British and keep their kingdoms, they more or less followed the conquerors in their tastes, and the Marwari horse went into a decline. The coming of the Industrial Age was another contributing factor, as horses were now not needed in the different walks of life, as had been the case before. After Independence, the Privy Purses or the Special Privileges that were accorded to the Indian Princes were abolished, and they became ordinary citizens, and probably for the first time in generations experienced a serious financial pinch. It became impossible for them to maintain themselves in the accustomed stately pomp of old, let alone their horses. It was to be only after they decided to come down from their high horses and move with the times that any thought could be spared towards any equinary interests. The transformation of the Royal Palaces into luxurious hotels for the tourist industry provided both a steady and sufficient income, and the Royalty, no longer in any pecuniary position, could now afford to indulge in long-neglected hobbies. This proved to be a blessing for the Marwari horse, and from a rare breed that was perilously near extinction, it has now made a remarkable comeback.
This Horse, bred as it was in a harsh climate, is a hardy breed, capable of withstanding both intense heat and cold. It has great endurance and hard strong hoofs that rarely need to be shod. It stands 14 to 17 hands tall, and is an elegant epitome of sheer equine beauty, with its perfect proportions and smooth, easy gait.
It has a long head with a broad forehead, wide-set large, and alert eyes, a Roman nose with full nostrils, and a well-shaped mouth. The most distinctive feature are its lyre-shaped ears, which curve inwards and meet at the tips. The medium-sized ears, which are longer in mares as compared to stallions, are capable of rotating through an angle of 180 degrees, and apart from providing the horse with an extremely acute hearing, also protect it in sand-storms. The soft, glossy coat comes in a variety of colors, but the Piebalds, Skewbalds, and black and white ones are the most in demand―the flat-chestnut colored ones are not pure Marwaris, having some European thoroughbred blood.
The Marwari, in recent years, is gaining a strong following both inside and outside India. It is capable of adapting almost anywhere, and its undoubted beauty and courageous disposition along with the steadfast loyalty it shows towards its owners is making it very popular with horse enthusiasts. Today, it is used for polo riding, for horse riding safaris, in marriage and religious ceremonies, and also in the cavalry ranks of the Delhi Police, the Punjab Police, the president's bodyguards, and the Armed Forces of India.