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I’ve always been fascinated by the native horse breeds of India. They seem to symbolize the historical and cultural value humans worldwide attach to horses. Sadly, these native horse breeds aren’t very well-recognized outside of India, and many are critically endangered.
The Marwari, Kathiawari, Manipuri, Spiti, Zaniskari, and Bhutia are the native horse breeds of India. The Marwari is known for its loyalty and hardiness in battle, while the other Indian horses are often categorized as ponies due to their short heights.
Ancient scriptures from Hinduism hold the horse in high regard, and it’s believed that they were first domesticated in what is now India. The Marwari Horse has a unique combination of features that make him special to this region- but how did he get there?
The role of horses in India.
Horses have been a part of Indian culture for centuries. India is home to some of the finest breeds in the world, and many ancient customs revolve around these animals. It’s important to understand why horses are essential in Indian tradition and what they mean to the people.
Before Europe came into contact with India’s civilizations, it was widely believed that only kings had access to horseback riding-most ordinary folk would never be able or allowed to own such a revered animal.
Europeans’ arrival changed all that: suddenly, “the noble beast” became available to anyone who could afford one (and European demand ensured reasonable prices). As time went on, horses became more common in India, with villagers using them for farming, transportation, and eventually adopting them as a symbol of status.
India is home to many horse breeds with specific qualities or abilities that make them suitable for different jobs. One of the most popular, called a Kathiawari Rajput, is known for its agility and endurance- it’s been used as a military charger in times of war and can carry loads over long distances without tiring easily.
Another breed that you will want to learn more about is the Marwari Horse. This horse originates from Rajasthan in India’s northwest region, and they are known for their unique ears and stamina. There is more information on this breed below.
More recently, horses’ importance to Indian culture has vastly diminished with increasing modernization–fewer people even own one today–but there are still some families whose wealth depends on horse-breeding or racing.
Are horses native to India?
Many historians often imply that horses are native to India, but this assumption is likely incorrect. Horses were first domesticated in the Eurasian steppe before being introduced to the rest of the world.
Horses are not native to India. A good amount of evidence shows that horses were first domesticated about 5,500 years ago in parts of Ukraine, Russia, and Kazakhstan. However, the domestication of horses probably occurred multiple independent times in different periods and regions.
Pre-historic ancestors of horses go back as far as 55 million years. Species more closely resembling the modern horses are thought to have emerged in North America around 10 million years ago.
The first people to domesticate horses belonged to the Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan. Horses were mainly used as food, for rituals, and to make tools from their bones. There’s also some fascinating evidence suggesting the Botai used the milk of horses to make ceramic vessels.
However, current evidence suggests that Botai horses were actually the Przewalski wild horse, and the practice of Botai horse “domestication” never actually spread into the rest of the modern world.
The second domestication of horses is believed to have occurred about 4,000 years ago in Russia and Central Asian countries. These are the sites where chariot burials first originated.
Along with other evidence, these burials indicate the horses in this era had a different purpose than their predecessors. They were used on the battlefields as war machines rather than just livestock. After this “secondary” domestication, horses quickly spread through Europe before reaching other continents as well.
Who introduced horses in India?
I thought horses were native to India, but it turns out that is not the case. So who introduced horses to India, and why was horseback riding so quickly embraced by the native people?
The leading belief is that the Indo-Aryan peoples introduced domesticated horses in India during their migration from Central Asia about 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. Though some interpretations of sacred Hindu texts date Indian horses to much earlier times, there’s no concrete evidence to support the presence of horses in India before 2000 BCE.
The Indo-Aryans are often credited with creating the vision of the Vedas (sacred Hindu texts) in Central Asia and setting its root in the Indian subcontinent. They were one of the first people to deploy horse-drawn chariots in warfare.
It is worth noting that the Indo-Aryan migration took place at the end of the Harappan Civilization. The Vedas are also believed to be heavily influenced by the Indo-Aryan culture. The rituals mentioned within the Vedas required the sacrifice of a white horse and were rarely followed in practice.
Why are horses considered valuable animals in the Rig Veda?
One day, while chatting with an Indian coworker about the Rig Veda, I learned that horses are considered highly valuable animals in Hinduism. This conversation intrigued me and gave me a reason to learn more about how Hindus view these majestic creatures.
The Rig Veda includes heroic depictions of horse-drawn chariots. Two of the Gods, the Ashvins, are glorious horsemen. The text also grants horses ritualistic significance and treats them as pivots for frequent holy metaphors.
There are different interpretations of the role of horses in the Rig Veda. Some believe that the horses may represent the sun or symbolize spiritual energy and the metaphysical structure that empowers the soul. In most cases, the mention of horses is tied to war and glory.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Rig Veda, it’s the oldest collection of sacred Hindu texts written more than three millennia ago (3000 BCE). It’s one of the four fundamental texts of Hinduism that shaped the beliefs and traditions of the Hindu people. The Rig Veda mainly contains sacred hymns that praise deities and discusses the nature of the universe.
The Rig Veda points out the horses’ value to society for their uses in agriculture, travel, and war. In fact, it was around the time of the Rig Veda was introduced when horse burials began in India.
The Rig Veda mentions horses more than any other animal (over 200 times!) and ascribes great importance to them. For instance, the horse is individually mentioned almost 40 times more than the cow, which is highly revered and considered a sacred animal in Hinduism.
Like the history of horses in Europe, horses in India influenced everything from religion and warfare to growth and trade.
How much does a horse cost in India?
India has nine established racing tracks, which are relatively few compared to its population. It makes me wonder how much a horse costs in India in US dollars and how the rate of native horses varies over the years.
A young horse in India costs anywhere from $400 to $1,500 (Rs. 30,000 – 115,000). An adult or trained horse typically costs at least $2,000 to $4,000. Depending on the pedigree, performance record, age, and other factors, a good horse may cost up to $15,000 or more.
The price of indigenous Indian horses largely varies with the state of the economy. The service, sales, and income taxes often keep the costs low in many states. The purse money in India is generally far less than in other regions like Hong Kong or the UK, and there is a notable lack of suitable farmlands for quality breeding.
The exchange rate of the Indian rupee also tends to drop or increase in a handful of years. If you plan on buying an indigenous horse, it’s worth keeping an eye on the Indian economy as this could easily add or remove up to a thousand dollars to your purchase.
The Marwari horse breed of India: What you need to know
The Marwari horse is a breed that originated in India. Known for their ability to carry heavy loads, these horses are used by the Indian Army and other cavalry forces in many different countries.
The Marwari is one of India’s most popular breeds and is used for both riding and agriculture purposes. They are often called “the warhorse” or “Indian cow pony,” as they are considered very hardy animals that can survive on little food or water.
The historical origins of the Marwari horses are uncertain, but they are believed to be partly descended from the Arabian horse. In the 12th century, the Marwari horses were selectively bred for endurance in war and an enhanced sense of hearing and direction (their ears can turn 180 degrees!).
The idea was to grant the Marwari perfect reactions in sharp battle scenarios. They were trained to perform complex maneuvers, and only members of the nobility were allowed to mount them.
As the Marwari horses were primarily bred in the deserts and hilly areas such as the Great Indian Desert, they can withstand higher temperatures, and dehydration is less of an issue due to their thin skins. However, the downside is that they are particularly susceptible to pests and insect bites.
They can be found all over India, but they are most popular in Rajasthan. The name “Marwari” has an interesting story behind it. According to legend, the first Marwaris were descended from a stallion who escaped his captors during a battle between two princes of the same family near Jodhpur and ran off into the desert where he lived until his death some 15 years later.
How much does a Marwari horse cost?
I’ve always remembered the Marwari horse breed for its curled ears and lean frame, though the native Kathiawari horse also looks similar. Ignoring the tremendous transport charges, how much will a Marwari horse cost if bought in India?
An average Marwari horse costs about $5,000 to $8,000. Marwari horses can be much more expensive depending on their pedigree, training, and age. Foals are generally cheaper, and stallions and mares have higher prices if they’re fit for equestrian sports or breeding.
During the 20th century British rule over India, the British preferred thoroughbreds and polo ponies over Marwari horses. The native horseback warriors also became few between World War I and 1947’s Indian Independence. Thus, the breeding of Marwari horses was almost halted, and they were close to extinction.
However, thanks to native and British investments, horse enthusiasts started several efforts in the second half of the 20th century to preserve and breed the Marwari horse. The government also started restricting their export and supporting temporary programs to exhibit the breed overseas.
The Marwari horse is still considered a rare breed. Today, there are estimated to be less than 40 Marwari horses outside of India. Within India, there are less than 1,000, and due to an unstable system of breeding and promotion, the number might only decrease in the future.
To state the obvious, it isn’t easy to find owners willing to sell a Marwari horse outside of India. And the prices are bound to be much higher than those you would have to pay at a local Indian market.
Are Marwari horses fast?
Marwari horses are slower than most racehorses. Their typical speed is between 20 to 25 miles per hour. Historically, the horses were bred for endurance riding, and their straight shoulder bones support them in deep sandy areas but don’t make them fast runners.
Marwari horses frequently show a unique ambling gait (four-beat gait) known as a revaal or rehwal. The gait isn’t speedy but makes riding smooth and comfortable for people who have to spend long hours on a saddle. Overall, the Marwari horse is more beneficial for riding and horse shows than competitive racing.
What are the 3 types of horses?
Horse breeds are classified into three main groups: hot, warm, and cold-blooded. Hot horses typically fit the description for being light-boned and high strung, whereas cold-blooded breeds have calm temperaments and large frames; these are the draft animals.
The horses with proportions between those two extremes are warmbloods; this group includes most sport-type horse breeds used in showjumping and dressage.