Monday, March 18, 2013

India: Rajasthan's horse heaven

Pushkar, the Aravalli Hills, Rajasthan. Photo / Thinkstock - Full Article

March 18 2013

Marwari horses steal Suzanne Middleton’s heart at the start of a three-month journey through Rajasthan in Northern India.

The Pushkar Camel Fair is a glorious melee of camels, farmers and tourists both Indian and foreign. Reminiscent of a New Zealand A&P show back in the 1960s, it's a farmers' big day out spread over nine days of competitions, displays, horse trading and religious observance.

To the urban tourist it's a spectacle of colour and fast-moving beasts. But for the horse lover it's a paradise of voluptuous horseflesh. In a sea of beige camels and cattle the vibrant Marwari horses, white, grey, black, bay and skewbald, snatch my attention from day one. Brought here to be sold, they're presented at their best, proud and noble animals bred by tough desert men.

These fiery and feisty horses are dynamite and they seem to know the place they hold in the hearts of Rajasthanis. They're a 2000-year-old breed, used as cavalry horses and ridden by the maharajahs of old, known for their courage, strength and endurance.

Striking in appearance, they're lean with clean lines, between 14.2 and 15.2 hands high, and any colour except chestnut. Their numbers were reduced to a few hundred 20 years ago, but now the Rajasthani government is encouraging excellence in the breed.

The men put the horses through their paces in the arena, leaning back with their feet forward, travelling at a thundering trot or a blistering semi pace, as smooth as the sand at their feet...

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