The Marwari horse is a rare, gaited breed native to Marwar, a region in Northwestern India. Marwaris are an important part of Indian culture and history, but outcrossing threatens the persistence of this noble breed.

The origins of the Marwari horse remained obscure until recent genetic studies revealed connections between Marwaris, Arabians, and Mongolian horses. However, Marwaris developed several unique traits over centuries of selective breeding by the Rathore dynasty.

Best known for their curled ears, the Marwari’s striking appearance and rich history continues to attract admiration for the breed. While there are currently few Marwari horses found outside of India, new exportation regulations could increase access to the breed worldwide.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, common health problems, and nutritional needs of the Marwari breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Marwari horses.

Marwari Horse History

Much folklore surrounds the history of the Marwari breed. According to ancient religious texts, Marwaris descend from the winged horses described in Indian legends.

While modern research has unveiled new insights into the Marwari’s past, the breed’s future remains uncertain.

Origins

Archaeological evidence suggests that Indian civilizations first domesticated horses around 1500 BC. Marwaris originated in the Marwar region of India, where the Rathore dynasty bred their ancestors as war horses. [1]

There are six native Indian breeds of horses alive today. Historians believe these horses descend from ancient ponies native to the Indian subcontinent, but genetic studies suggest foreign breeds also influenced their development. [1]

The Marwari was the first Asian horse breed to undergo whole genome sequencing, a research technique that deciphers each “letter” of the animal’s DNA to reveal its full genetic blueprint. Genetic analysis revealed significant links to Arabian and Mongolian horses in the Marwari’s lineage, with evidence of both selective breeding and natural adaptation. [1]

Marwaris share some phenotypic similarities with Akhal Tekes, meaning they exhibit certain characteristics or traits that suggest shared genetic ancestry. Turkmen horses came to Northern India when the Mughal Empire gained control of the region, crossing with native breeds and contributing to the development of the Marwari. [2]

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Historic Use

Modern Marwaris trace their lineage back to horses bred by the Rathore clan, an Indian Rajput dynasty that governed Marwar from the 13th to the mid-20th century. In the arid region of the eastern Thar Desert, the Rathores depended on these horses for survival. [3]

While the Indian subcontinent generally offers limited grazing lands for horses, the drier Northwestern regions, including Marwar, could support horse populations on Sewan grass. Sewan grass is a drought-resistant native forage commonly used for grazing livestock in parts of India. Horses in these regions evolved an efficient metabolism to survive on minimal food in the hot, arid desert climate.

Ancient Indian texts suggest that horses have played prominent cultural roles in northwestern India since the Vedic Period (1500-500 BC). The Vedas mention horses used for sacrifices, racing, and chariot pulling. [4]

The Rathores used the hardy ancestors of Marwari horses to transport goods and people over challenging desert terrain. Eventually, their breeding programs prioritized producing brave, loyal, intelligent riding horses for battle.

Rajput warriors utilized Marwaris as fierce cavalry horses for centuries. Some horses also learned to perform in ceremonies for the ruling class, but the breed population declined significantly under the influence of British rule in India. [5]

During the mid-twentieth century, several prominent Indian families intervened to prevent the Marwari breed from becoming extinct, ensuring that these horses continued as a symbol of India’s cultural heritage.

Breed Registry

In 1952, the Indian government banned the export of indigenous horse breeds to preserve their heritage. The ban was partially lifted in 1999 to allow special licenses for exports of small numbers of horses.

In 2000, Francesca Kelly brought the first Marwari horses to North America after encountering the breed on a trip to India. However, the vast majority of Marwari horses still live in India today.

Together with Bonnie Singh Dundlod, Kelly founded the Indigenous Horse Society of India (IHSI). The IHSI collaborates with other Indian breed societies in the National Confederation of Indigenous Horse Societies to conduct research, DNA testing, and maintain pedigree records for Marwaris.

Breed Characteristics

Marwari horses are identifiable by their unique curled ears. While the breed shares some characteristics with other indigenous Indian breeds, studies have identified several distinct physical traits in these horses. [6]

Conformation

Research on Marwari characteristics highlights distinct features of these horses, such as longer body lengths compared to other indigenous breeds and higher withers than croups.

However, compared to Thoroughbreds, Marwari horses tend to have shorter heights, body lengths, heart girths, and cannon circumferences. [6]

Marwaris are medium-sized horses with an average height of 14 to 15 hands. They have light but hardy conformations with long backs and arched necks. The head is delicate, moderate in length, and has a straight or convex profile.

The Marwari’s moderately-long ears curve inward, causing the tips to meet when alert. These horses also have sloping shoulders and croups, slender legs, and small but sturdy hooves.

Marwari Horse Conformation Pictures | Mad Barn USA

Colours

Brown and bay are the most common coat colours in the breed. Pinto colour patterns and extensive white colouring are also seen in Marwaris. Other coat colours include chestnut, gray, and dun.

Some Marwaris have a light dorsal stripe, which is more common in other indigenous Indian breeds. These horses can also have a metallic sheen, similar to Akhal Tekes.

Temperament

Marwaris are brave horses known for their loyalty and spirited personalities. Many owners find Marwari horses friendly and eager to train. They generally enjoy human companionship and learning.

Though admired for their self-confidence and intelligence, Marwari horses may not suit inexperienced handlers. As with all horses, personalities can vary between individuals and good training is essential to encourage positive behaviours.

Disciplines

Marwaris are known for their speed and stamina. Their adaptation to desert climates allows the breed to excel in endurance competitions over challenging terrain. Marwaris are also popular pleasure mounts in India for trail riding, polo, and low-level dressage.

Some Marwaris can perform a natural ambling gait similar to a pace. This fast, four-beat gait produces a smooth ride suitable for long days in the saddle.

Health Profile

Marwari horses are commonly the subject of research studies in India to support efforts to preserve the breed. Genetics researchers have also evaluated the breed’s whole genome to gain insights into its unique characteristics and lineage. [1]

While health issues affecting this rare breed aren’t well-documented, breeders understand that maintaining genetic diversity is essential for the future of the Marwari horse.

Genetic Diseases

Breeds with small populations are at risk of inbreeding depression, which refers to an increased risk of hereditary health issues from mating closely related individuals. Inbreeding depression can result in reduced fertility, increased vulnerability to diseases, and a decline in overall health and vitality in a population.

Despite concerns about inbreeding in Marwari horses, genetic studies show that the Marwari breed has a high level of genetic variability and no known genetic diseases.

The high degree of genetic diversity suggests that frequent outcrossing with other breeds has helped Marwaris avoid population bottlenecks that could otherwise contribute to an increased risk of genetic disease. [2][7]

However, the presence of specific gene sequences only found in Marwaris also confirms the distinct evolution of these horses apart from other Indian horse breeds. [2][7]

Interestingly, a gene associated with enhanced smell has been identified in the Marwari horse. Additionally, the gene responsible for their inward-facing ears may also contribute to improved hearing. [1]

More research is needed to determine the incidence of genetic diseases in Marwaris. Because these horses share genes with Arabians, they may also exhibit similar health problems. [1]

Health Problems

While Marwari horses are known for their resilience and adaptability, they are also susceptible to common health issues that affect all equine breeds.

Similar to Arabians, these horses typically have thin skin, which makes them well-suited for hot climates. However, this trait also increases their sensitivity to insect bites and skin irritations.

Marwari horses are also susceptible to problems associated with modern domestic management due to their ability to gain weight quickly. These horses need quality care and management to avoid concerns such as laminitis, colic, and respiratory issues.

Care and Management

All domestic horses need quality basic care to ensure their health and longevity. Conservation efforts for Marwari horses also prioritize reproductive health and breeding soundness.

Work with your veterinarian, barn manager and other equine practitioners to develop a comprehensive wellness plan that includes: [8]

  • Veterinary Exams: Identify and address health issues early by scheduling regular veterinary appointments.
  • Vaccinations: Follow a vaccination schedule recommended by your veterinarian to keep your horse safe from infectious diseases.
  • Dental Care: Every 6 – 12 months, have a qualified dental practitioner performing a dental exam and teeth floating on your horse to ensure optimal chewing and digestion. Older horses need more frequent check-ups due to an increased risk of dental disease and may require changes to their diet to maintain a healthy weight. [9]
  • Parasite Management: A strategic deworming program can help to protect your horse from internal parasites.
  • Hoof Care: Regular farrier visits and hoof trimming are essential to maintaining hoof balance and keeping your horse’s feet healthy.

Marwari horses living in colder climates may require blankets to keep them warm in winter temperatures. Ensure your horse has adequate access to shelter to protect them from extreme weather conditions.

Following a daily grooming routine is also important and can help bring out the metallic shine in your Marwari horse’s coat.

Horses that live inside need plenty of turnout to provide exercise and social interaction. However, due to their efficient metabolism, full-time turnout on fresh pasture may not be suitable for this breed.

Consider limiting the amount of turnout time your Marwari horse gets on grass pasture or turning your horse out in a dry lot with hay instead.

Nutrition Program

Marwaris evolved to survive on sparse roughage with lower nutritional value than the forages commonly fed to domestic horses in North America. If their diet is not closely managed, these horses can develop health problems associated with obesity and overfeeding. [9]

Weight Maintenance

Marwaris are easy keepers, which means they can maintain their body weight on minimal feed. These horses evolved to efficiently extract nutrients from the low-calorie Sewan grass found in their arid homeland.

However, this metabolic efficiency also makes these horses susceptible to unwanted weight gain when they are fed energy-dense concentrates or forages. [9]

You should regularly monitor your horse’s body condition score to track changes in your their weight over time. An ideal score is a 5 on the 9-point Henneke scale. If your horse is over-conditioned or under-conditioned, you might need to modify their diet.

Marwari horses that are underweight could have underlying health problems that are affecting their ability to absorb nutrients from their diet. Contact your veterinarian if you notice unexpected weight loss in your horse.

Sample Diet

The following sample diet is intended for a mature 400 kg (880 lb) Marwari horse with normal body condition at maintenance (not exercising).

Feed Amount per day
Mid-Quality Hay (8% crude protein) Free-choice
Salt 30 g (2 tbsps)
Omneity Pellets 150 g (1.5 scoops)
Diet Analysis
Digestible Energy (% of Req) 105%
Protein (% of Req) 127%
HC (ESC + starch; % Diet) 8.8%

 

Marwari horses thrive on a forage-based diet, but hay is typically deficient in several essential nutrients. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can impact your horse’s health, resulting in weak hooves, impaired immune function and poor coat quality. [13]

Mad Barn’s Omneity is a vitamin and mineral supplement that can be added to your Marwari horse’s diet to ensure they meet their nutritional requirements. Omneity provide essential nutrients to support hoof growth, gut health, performance and more. [11]

Omneity is formulated without any added grains or sugars, making it an ideal supplement for easy keepers such as Marwaris.

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Forage

Providing your Marwari horse with free-choice forage supports digestive health and helps to mimic natural grazing behaviors. Horses typically consume 2% of their weight in forage daily.

An average 400 kg (880 lb) Marwari horse is expected to consume approximately8 kg (18 lb) of hay on a dry matter basis per day. Native sewan grass is sufficient to meet the energy requirements of most Marwari horses in light work. [9] For Marwaris in North America, select a mature grass hay with low starch and sugar content to provide forage that resembles their native diet.

The combined starch and sugar (ESC) content is referred to as hydrolyzable carbohydrates (HC) which is digested in the small intestine and can stimulate insulin secretion. This differs from NSC which traditionally includes carbohydrate fractions that do not contribute to insulin rises.

Exercising horses may benefit from forages with higher energy and protein content, such as alfalfa hay.

Although free-choice access to forage is ideal, overweight horses may need their forage intake restricted to 1.5% of body weight to promote weight loss. Use a hay net or slow feeder to prolong access to forage when rationing your horse’s hay.

Turning out Marwari horses on lush pastures requires caution to prevent weight gain and reduce the risk of laminitis. You may need to restrict your horse’s access to lush grass by turning them on a dry lot instead.

To control the amount of grass your Marwari consumes while on pasture, consider using a grazing muzzle. These safe devices allow your horse to graze but slow down their grass intake.

Feeding Recommendations

Most Marwari horses don’t need commercial feeds in their diet. Feeding high-starch grains or concentrates can increase the risk of gut issues and obesity in these horses.

Instead, feed a concentrated vitamin and mineral supplement to meet your horse’s nutritional requirements. Replace high-starch feeds with soaked forage pellets or beet pulp to serve as a fiber-based supplement carrier.

Marwaris that compete in endurance races benefit from fat supplements as a safe source of concentrated calories. Feeding oils that contain omega-3 fatty acids also supports skin and coat health, joint mobility and healthy regulation of inflammation. [10]

All horses need fresh water and salt available at all times. Adding 1 – 2 ounces of salt to your horse’s daily ration ensures they meet their sodium requirement and encourages water intake. Our nutritionists also recommend providing your horse with free-choice loose salt instead of using a salt block.

Horses exercising in hot environments lose large amounts of electrolytes in their sweat, which can contribute to exercise intolerance and poor workout recovery. For Marwari horses participating in endurance rides, it’s important to feed a horse-specific electrolyte supplement to maintain electrolyte balance and prevent dehydration [11]

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  • Optimal electrolyte balance
  • Supports exercise performance
  • Promote workout recovery

Nutritional Supplements

The first priority when feeding your Marwari horse is to provide a balanced, forage-based diet that meets their energy, protein, vitamin, and mineral requirements. Once your horse’s diet is balanced, you may consider additional supplements to support your horse’s individual needs.

  • W-3 Oil is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement that is enriched with microalgal DHA and natural vitamin E. This fat supplement supports skin health, joint function, and coat quality in Marwari horses. It may also help reduce hypersensitivity to insect bites in these horses.
  • Optimum Digestive Health is a pelleted probiotic and prebiotic supplement that supports hindgut function, nutrient absorption and the immune system in Marwari horses. Feeding this supplement can support your horse’s gut health and promote a balanced microbiome.
  • Performance XL: Electrolytes is scientifically formulated to replenish the electrolytes that competition horses lose in their sweat. Marwari horses that compete in endurance races or that live in hot climates can benefit from this supplement in addition to their daily salt ration.

Have questions about your Marwari horse’s feeding program? Submit their information online for a free consultation with our qualified equine nutritionists and get individualized help with formulating a balanced diet.

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