Marwari - War Horse of the Mahārāja
Legend has it that in the 12th century AD, a group of people that would later be known as the Rathores were exiled from their homeland. Sheoji, the man who would be the father of the Rathores, rode out proudly with a group of faithful pilgrims to find a new home. Their will was of iron, and their horses were strong and fast. Together, they would settle in a region called the Marwar, in Rajasthan, to start a new life. The horses that bore them were integral to their survival and represented the pride and strength of the people.
Although this legend is the only indication available as to why the Rathores left their homeland and migrated, the fact is that this group did arrive and settle in Marwar and over many years, their horses grew into the regal Marwari breed with distinctive inwardly pointed ears. Later historical reference denotes that their beauty and power was revered and when a Marwari horse moved through the city streets, the commoners would bow deeply before it and the lord it bore ‐ and while their heads faced the ground, their eyes would strain upward to get a glimpse of the almost mythical creature. Never would their hands touch such an animal, as they were strictly reserved for only esteemed warriors and the upper echelons of society. For hundreds of years, this aristocratic horse would reign as the symbol of Marwari aristocracy.
In the early 1800s, the British colonials came to India to stake their claim. They brought with them an English way of life ‐ technical advancement, new agricultural techniques, new government and regimented armies, whose soldiers rode tall Thoroughbreds. Naturally, the English saw their own horses as the height of equine breeding and considered the Marwari horses as deformed inferiors. Many Marwari were killed, both in battle and in peacetime, as the colonial hegemony made its best attempt to destroy the breed and stop the genetic contamination of their own horses. During this period, the fate of the Marwari horse seemed to be sealed, as their numbers were drastically reduced.
After the Second World War, the colonials withdrew from India, leaving behind a scarred country. The aftermath of this continued the downfall of the Marwari. As Indian noblemen were stripped of their land and assets and there were fewer left to care for them, Marwari numbers were further reduced. The breed became a symbol for the discriminative nature of the class system and was vilified. Their diminished role and importance as the indigenous horse of India begat indiscriminate breeding, diluting the pure breed of native horse. The Marwari horse was all but forgotten, as over the course of 150 years, the breed was pushed to the very brink of extinction. By the late 20th century, only an estimated 600 purebred Marwari horses were still alive.
The parallels between the Marwari horse and Indian society are very clear. Here had stood a strong, beautiful horse that for an age had danced proudly, the mount of lords and royalty ‐ suddenly forced out of the Indian zeitgeist by the hegemonic English occupation and the consequences thereof. The natural beauty of the animal aside, this symbol for the Indian way of life is something that the Marwari people cannot afford to let go. In some way, saving the Marwari horse will, in essence, save them and the traditional ways of the past that were distilled in the elegant metaphor of the horse.
In the late 20th century, one of the remaining Indian lords, a man named Raghuvendra “Bonnie” Singh Dundlod and a British horsewoman named Francesca Kelly set their minds to saving the breed.
Francesca had attended one of Bonnie’s horse‐riding tours of the region and was so moved by Bonnie and the Marwari horse’s story that she decided then and there to dedicate her life to the conservation of the breed. On Bonnie’s rural acreage, they bred the horses from only the purest of stock and gave others the tools to do so as well. Within a few years, they founded the Indigenous Horse Society of India, an international group formed with the aim to preserve and revitalise the Marwari breed and raise awareness about its plight. Finding these friends, horse numbers slowly began an upward climb.
At Dundlod Fort, historical tours were run to expose more and more people to the breed, and gradually, it edged its way from near extinction to endangered. But this unprecedented success bore a new problem. Bonnie and Francesca were not only running out of space to breed the horses, but the sheer cash flow required to run such an operation was substantial. That, in combination with the limited resources available to them in Rajasthan, inspired Francesca to consider exporting some of the Marwari to America, where there were additional facilities to continue the work.
The Indian government had different ideas. It believed that not only were there simply too few Marwari horses to allow any to leave their home, but now counted the horse as part of India’s ‘national wealth’ and such an integral part of a distinctly Indian biodiversity, that an export ban had been unequivocally placed on the animal. However, the government is not prepared to resource the revitalisation of the breed or help Bonnie and Francesca in any way. Arguing that exporting them was key to their survival, Francesca was not about to let go and after a 5 year negotiation with the government, she managed to bring 6 horses from India to the American stable she had built especially for them. The monetary cost for this exercise was crippling though. Between American customs, horse illnesses and transport costs, moving the horses had cost Francesca more than 10 times the price she had originally paid for the animals.
Francesca and Bonnie are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. They firmly believe that sharing these horses with the world is the best way to secure the long term future of the breed, but at the same time, must now consider the viability of the plan because of the short‐sightedness of the Indian government.
The fate of the Marwari horse hangs in the balance and time is of the essence. Something must be done; a solution must be found, or the ancient Marwari horse will be yet another casualty of human carelessness and the memories of an epoch will die with it.
The underlying purpose of this documentary is to raise awareness about the current predicament of the indigenous Indian horse known as ‘Marwari’. This rare and iconic breed of horse will only be saved by either a dramatic increase in development of infrastructure in India to support a breeding program, or a renegotiation of current export policies to allow the creation of an accredited international breeding exchange program with another country. But who is going to implement such a strategy? How will this be achieved? What will the outcome be? And most importantly, how will this benefit the breed?
I HAVE OFTEN BEEN ASKED HOW A RELATIVELY UNKNOWN BREED OF DESERT HORSES ENDED UP ON MARTHAS VINEYARD. IN 1995, LIKE MANY ENTHUSIASTIC RIDERS , MY THEN HUSBAND , JAMES KELLY BOOKED A RIDING TRIP TO RAJSTHAN THROUGH EQUITOURS WITH WHOM WE HAD RIDDEN IN KENYA AND FRANCE.
LIKE MANY BEFORE AND SINCE, I HAD VAGUELY HEARD OF THE MARWARI AND KATHIAWARI BREEDS BUT EXISTING PHOTOGRAPHS OF THESE HORSES WERE OF EXAMPLES SO POOR IN CONDITION AND ALLURE, THEY NEVER REGISTERED. IMAGINE MY DELIGHT AND SURPRISE WHEN I DISCOVERED NOT ONLY BEAUTIFUL HORSES BUT OF SUCH ENGAGING TEMPERAMENTS I WAS EASILY SMITTEN.
DURING THE TRIP, WE PASSED THROUGH THE NAGAUR FAIR AND IT WAS THEN THAT MY HUSBAND JAMES QUIETLY NEGOTIATED THE PURCHASE OF A PIEBALD MARE . I RODE HER FOR THE REST OF THE RIDE, NAMED HER SHANTI AND THE DIE WAS CAST FOR AN EXTRARODINARY ADVENTURE LASTING TO THIS DAY AND NO DOUBT FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.
WE WERE LIVING IN LONDON AT THE TIME BUT HAD PURCHASED LAND ON MARTHA’S VINEYARD WHERE MY JAMES HAD A LONG HISTORY SINCE HIS YEARS AT HARVARD ( PLUS TWO PRIOR HOMES AND EX-WIVES!) THE LAND WAS BARE APART FROM RUN DOWON STABLES AND WE DECIDED NOT ONLY TO BUILD OURSELVES A WONDEFUL HOME BUT PURCHASE HORSES TO ENJOY DURING OUR LONG TRIPS TO THE ISLAND. FROM THE FIRST MARWARI PURCHASE , WE LEARNED THAT THE COST OF EXPORTING ONE WOULD BE THE SAME AS EXPORTING 3 DUE TO THE CONTAINER HOUSING THREE STALLS. OFF I RETURNED TO INDIA TO MEET BONNIE AND SOURCE A STALLION AND ANOTHER MARE TO BREED FROM.
THIS STORY HAS BEEN TOLD IN MY BOOK AND TO CUT IT SHORT , IT TOOK 4 YEARS TO FINALLY GET MY HORSES TO USA. DURING THAT TIME I RETURNED AGAIN AND AGAIN TO ENJOY MY HORSES, PARTICIPATE IN THE DISCOVERY OF ITS HISTORY AND CHAMPIONS AND INITIATE A SERIES OF COMMITMENTS AND SOCIETIES THAT THRIVE TODAY.
MARTHA’S VINEYARD IS A WONDERFUL BASE FOR THESE HORSES. LONG HOT SUMMERS, LOOSE SAND SOIL NOT UNLIKE THEIR DESERT HABITAT AND THE HEALING PLAYGROUND OF THE OCEAN WHERE THEY COOL DOWN DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS. THE OCEAN ALSO PROVIDED US WITH THE SAFE ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH TO BACK YOUNG HORSES IN PREPARATION FOR SCHOOLING AND RIDING.
THE HORSES ARE ACTUALLY ON CHAPPAQUIDDICK , MORE REMOTE THAN ITS BIGGER SISTER, WITH ACCESS BY FERRY ONLY FROM EDGARTOWN. THERE IS ONE ROAD ONLY WITH MULTIPLE TRAILS THROUGH THE WOODS AND BEACHES. ACCESS TO THE OCEAN AND BAYS IS VIRTUALLY UNREGULATED AND THE ENTIRE ISLAND IS A CONSERVATIONISTS DREAM. THERE IS ONE FARM, NO HOTELS , NO COMMERCIAL BUSINESS AND THE HORSES LIVE IN EXTREMELY SAFE AND PEACEFUL PASTURES CLOSE TO THE WATER.
MY DIVORCE FROM MY SECOND HUSBAND ENTAILED THE SACRIFICE OF OUR HOME AND STABLES IN 2006. I CURRENTLY LEASE 9 ACRES ON CHAPPAQUIDDICK FROM THE SHERIFFS MEADOW FOUNDATION. THIS LEASE HOWEVER IS SUBJECT TO RESTRICTIONS. NO PERMANENT STRUCTURES CAN BE ERECTED AND THE HORSES HAVE TO BOARD OFF-ISLAND DURING THE WINTER MONTHS WHEN I TRAVEL TO INDIA .
I AM MOST GRATEFUL TO THE FOUNDATION FOR THE USE OF THEIR LANDS BUT A MORE PERMANENT BASE MUST BE FOUND FOR THE MARWARIS TO SAFEGUARD EXISTING NUMBERS AND MAKE ROOM FOR MORE IMPORTS IN THE FUTURE.
A NUMBER OF HORSES FROM MY HERD ARE NOW EN ROUTE TO KENTUCKY HORSE PARK AS A PERMANENT DONATION TO THAT HORSE PARK. THE MILLIONS OF VISITORS TO THE KHP, THE SUBSTANTIAL DONATIONS OF FUNDS AND THE EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS OF THE KHP TO OWN AND BREED FROM THE HORSES I AM SENDING THEM GUARANTEES THEM SANCTUARY FOR THEIR LIFE TERM.
I HOLD SUFFICIENT STOCKS OF IMPORTED SEMEN FROM MY INDIAN STALLIONS AT TNT EQUINE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE BUT WILL BE SOURCING FURTHER MARES IN INDIA TO IMPORT TO MY HERD IN 2012.
BY THIS TIME I HOPE TO SELL MY PROPERTIES AND REBUILD THE APPROPRIATE FACILITY ON CHAPPAQUIDDICK OR MARTHA’S VINEYARD.
PIROPLSAMOSIS IS THE ONLY IMPASSE TO IMPORT INTO USA. IT IS RECORDED AS AN INCURABLE DISEASE, MUCH LIKE LYME DISEASE WITH SIMILAR SYMPTOMS. DUE TO NORTH AMERICA’S OWN ENDEMIC TICK POPULATION WITH SEVERAL VECTORS, EACH CAPABLE OF VIRULENT CONTRA-INDICATIONS IN EQUINE AND CATTLE HOSTS.
THE ELISA TEST WHICH REPLACED THE CF TEST IN 2004 IS SO SENSITIVE IT PICKS UP TRACES AND ANTIBODIES THAT THE CFTEST DID NOT. PIROPLASMOSIS IS ENDEMIC TO INDIA , SOUTHERN EU, SOUTH AMERICA, AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE –EAST. MANAGEMENT OF THIS DISEASE IN INDIA IS APPALLINGLY NEGLIGENT.
THE IHSI WILL BE TARGETING BREEDERS AND THE ANIMAL HUSBANDRY DEPT, OF INDIA HARD THIS YEAR WITH INFORMATION , PREVENTIVE MEASURES IN TICK MANAGEMENT CONTROL TO COMPEL THE STAKE HOLDERS OF THE INDIGENOUS BREEDS TO TAKE THIS DISEASE SERIOUSLY. THERE IS CONSIDERABLE IGNORANCE AND APATHY AS MOST BREEDERS ARE FOCUSSED ON EVENTUAL EXPORT TO EU WHICH DOES NOT HAVE A PIRO PROTOCOL. HOWEVER HORSES MUST FIRST ENTER MALAYSIA WHICH DOES.
SHORT-SIGHTEDNESS AND LACK OF INFORMATION IS OUR PRIMARY GOAL THIS AND NEXT YEAR TO CHANGE.
SINCE MY DIVORCE I HAVE CONSIDERED RETURNING TO EUROPE AND HAVE SPENT THE LAST THREE YEARS RECCING PROPERTIES IN FRANCE , UK AND SPAIN. HOWEVER, I MUST CONCUR WITH ALL THE PRESS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS WHO HAVE VISITED THE ISLANDS I LIVE AND WORK ON: IT WOULD BE NIGH IMPOSSIBLE TO DUPLICATE THE INCREDIBLE ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS, CLIMATE, OCEAN, LAND AND MOST OF ALL THE MOST ADVANCED VETERINARY HORSE CARE IN THE WORLD.
WHEN I SAY ADVANCED I NOT ONLY MEAN THE OFFICIAL VET HOSPITALS, PRACTITIONERS AND TRAINING, BUT THE ALTERNATIVE AWARENESS ; MEDICAL , NUTRITIONAL AND HEALING , NOT TO MENTION THE MANY DIVERSE AND MORE COMPASSIONATE FORMS OF TRAINING ALL OF WHICH THE USA ADVANCES AND PROMOTES.
MARTHA’S VINEYARD IS CERTAINLY REMOVED FROM THE COMPETITION WORLD. MY PRIMARY FOCUS IN THE US IS BREEDING ONLY . I HAVE SHOWN BOTH AT EQUITANA AND THE WORLD EQUESTRIAN GAMES 2010 AND THOSE HIGH END EVENTS SUFFICE. SOMEHOW PEOPLE FIND US AND COME TO US AND THE CREATIVE PROMOTIONS I INITIATE IN THE ARTS SERVE TO “ADVERTISE “ THE BREED IN WAYS I PERSONALLY FIND MORE EXCITING AND REWARDING. PLEASE SEE 2009 ENDURANCE BROCHURE FOR EXAMPLES OF THE MARWARIS IN THE ARTS.
THE BULK OF COMPETITION WORK HAS TAKEN PLACE IN INDIA WITH BONNIE. WE HAVE BEEN A PRETTY FORMIDABLE TEAM SINCE 2006 AND CAN PROBABLY TAKE CREDIT FOR PUTTING THE MARWARI ON THE MAP IN ITS OWN COUNTRY THROUGH OUR ENTHUSIASM AND DEDICATION .
WE BOTH ENJOY THE CHALLENGE OF CREATING PRECEDENTS IN OUR CHOSEN FIELDS . OUR SUCCESS IN INDIA AND THE OFTEN CONTROVERSIAL AND AGGRESSIVE MANNER IN WHICH WE TACKLE AND DELIVER OUR MANDATES ELICITS SUPPORT AND SABOTAGE BOTH.
HOWEVER, EACH IS A STEPPING STONE TO THE FUTURE AND THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THE MARWARI OF ALL THE INDIGENOUS BREEDS OF INDIA IS RIGHT BACK WHERE IT BELONGS: ON THE BATTLE-FIELD! WE NEED TO ALSO PAY EQUAL ATTENTION TO THE KATHIAWARI AND 2012 WILL SEE US WORKING WITH THE AFFICIANADOS OF THAT BREED, OVER RULING THE PRESUMPTION THAT IT COMES FROM THE ARAB AND PRESENTING ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO POINT TO IT BEING THE TRUE PURE BLOOD HORSE OF INDIA FOR MILLENIA. BEVERLEY DAVIS HAS WRITTEN AN AUTHORITATIVE THESIS ON THE INDIAN HORSE, YOU CAN FIND HER LINK ON THE IHSI UK CHAPTER AND DOWNLOAD THE FULL PAPERS.
Tatiana Frazzica & Joe Frazzica
In 2004 Bonnie invited Tatiana & Joe to film the Marwari horses for their horse TV show Horse Rush. The email began with, "We share a common passion, the love of horses". Tatiana and Joe have never forgotten that email. In fact they had no idea that India had an indigenous horse and had never seen a Marwari horse. After many more emails and negotiation Tatiana & Joe traveled to Dundlod in Rajasthan India in search of this fascinating horse October 2004.
The first Australian's to ever visit Dundlod Fort and ride the Marwari horse is something they are very proud of. The episode featuring the Marwari horses was a hit. The network aired the episode four times. The episode aired in the USA and Australia on cable TV. Whilst in India fascinated by the colors, people and most of all captivated by the stunning Marwari horses Tatiana & Joe made a promise to do all they could to raise awareness of the breed, help Bonnie & Francesca's work and return to make a feature film documentary showcasing these amazing horses, their story and India.
Keeping in touch with Bonnie and Francesca over the years the idea of a documentary was brought up at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky USA 2010. On return to Australia Tatiana & Joe began to form their team to take this project all the way to the top, the Sundance Film Festival 2016.
"We are very excited to have secured the best DP's in the world today Luke Geissbuhler and Ben Wolf. We are also very excited about filming this documentary on the RED Camera. The pictures from India will be stunning." - Joe Frazzica
With production well on it's way the documentary film Marwari - War Horse of the Mahārāja is on track for a 2015 release. This is the story of Bonnie & Francesca's plight to bring the Marwari horse back to it's former glory, and raise world wide awareness of the issues facing the Marwari. You will be moved and captivated by the enormous efforts, dedication, passion and hard work. This story will inspire you to be the best you can be.
"Our cast & crew are working very hard to make this documentary unforgettable". - Tatiana
Frazzica Productions will be donating a percentage of profit from the film to the Indigenous Horse Society of India.
Riding through Rajasthan India on the Marwari horses 2004