Horses do not play a big role in most people’s lives in India. You can tell that by the ludicrous tricks that a horse has to perform in a movie in order to attract attention. Although I am pretty indifferent to them, I was fortunately not traumatized as many children of tourists in the hill towns are. I see small children who are just learning to let go of a parent’s hand being plonked on to the back of a horse-for-hire while the proud parents take photos. The child usually begins to squall as soon as s/he is placed on the back of a large unfamiliar animal. This isn’t the horse’s fault, but I tend to avoid places where horse owners gather for the tourist trade.
That wasn’t possible in Mahabalehwar, since the horses stood in the middle of the market. While waiting for The Family to emerge from a shop, I stared at a horse which stood nearby. Was it the only one whose ears curled in? It looked up at me, and its ear tips nearly touched each other. Something clicked in my mind. I looked at it sleek muscles, the height, and the hocks and hooves, and realized that this must be a Marwari horse. That’s a rare breed. A hardy warhorse of legend, possibly the breed that Rana Pratap’s horse belonged to, it had been much degraded during colonial times. Since the 1990s the breed has made a comeback with Jodhpur’s support. Now bloodlines are recorded and an attempt is being made to popularize them.
I talked to the grooms. They all had Marwari horses, and were happy to find one person who admired their horses. The breed emerged in the desert kingdom of the Rathores in the 11th century CE, and needs little fodder but good care of the skin. That makes it ideal for this low-income trade. I saw that they have a smooth gait, again something ideal for first time riders like tourists and their children. The grooms buy horses in the annual Pandharpur horse fair. The breed is best known for pintos, palominos, bay, and chestnut. I saw several of them here. But there were more of the disfavoured whites. Perhaps they are cheaper. I was glad to see these legendary horses from history making a slow comeback in the hands of owners who care for them.