Name of breed: Kathiawari
Country of origin: India
Breed origin: A breed of horse from the Kathiawar peninsula in Western India, the origins of the Kathiawari are mysterious. It is known that they existed on the western coast of India long before the Mongol invaders arrived in the 16th century. They may have evolved from the wild horses of Kathiawar, whose bloodlines were influenced by northern Indian breeds as well as steppe and desert breeds that often share the Kathiawari’s curved ears, ‘dry’ head and pacing ability. Alternatively, or additionally, Kathiawaris may have been developed using a mixture of local breeds from the western coast combined with imported Arabians (Arabians were definitely used to refine the breed at various later stages). The Mongol invaders could also have added some of their own horses to the mix.
Whatever their ancestry, Kathiawari horses were originally bred by noble families in the 17th and 18th centuries in the Kathiawar region. They were used as desert war horses for use over long distances in terribly rough terrain. The families also used their horses for sport, and treated them as favoured pets representing the nobility of the household itself. They bred wiry, sleek, hardy horses that could endure the extreme desert temperatures and survive on minimal rations. Each family developed its own strain, usually named after a foundation mare. The horses of Kathiawar were known not just for their athleticism but also for their intelligence, loyalty and bravery in battle, often defending their riders even when wounded themselves.
In more recent centuries, Kathiawaris were used by the Marathas and British Cavalries, considered a superior mount even to the Thoroughbred, which the British then regarded as the perfect horse for almost every purpose. When India gained independence in 1976, the noble strains of Kathiawari were no longer maintained and the population of purebred Kathiawaris declined. Crossbreeding with the closely related Marwari breed and other local horses, combined with inbreeding of the remaining Kathiawaris due to a lack of organisation, threatened the breed’s survival. By 2007, only 50 horses were owned by private breeders. Since then, however, huge efforts have been made to repopularise the Kathiawari, set breed standards and improve breeding methods, and the population is on the rise.
Distinguishing features: Overall, the Kathiawari has an elegant appearance with a similar outline to the Arabian. The Kathiawari’s head is refined and Arab-like, although the profile varies. The average height is 14.2 hands high. The breed has a long neck, relatively short, slender legs, squared hindquarters and broad, round hooves that are ideal for the desert. Kathiawaris are known for their endurance, hardiness, speed and easy action, naturally performing a fast, comfortable lateral pacing gait. They carry their expressive head and long, fine tail high. Like Marwari horses, Kathiawaris are known for their distinctive, inward-turning ears that touch at the tips – they actually have the most extremely curved ears of any horse breed. Their ears are highly mobile and can rotate 360 degrees! 19 colours and colour patterns have been recorded among Kathiawaris, but the most common colour is chestnut and they are almost never black. Dun Kathiawaris often have primitive markings: a dorsal stripe down the spine and zebra stripes on the legs. In temperament, Kathiawaris are spirited, intelligent, courageous and affectionate.
Modern day Kathiawari: Today most Kathiawari horses are owned by farmers, although the government also owns and breeds Kathiawaris as part of an organised breeding program. They are mostly used for riding, but they are also very capable in harness. Kathiawaris are also used as sport horses, particularly for the sport of tent-pegging, and sometimes by the Indian police. The Indian Cavalry also maintains large herds of Indian Half-Bred horses, which have Kathiawari (majority), Waler, Arabian and Thoroughbred bloodlines.
Image credits: feature & preview image by Ashwin Bavadiya/Shutterstock.com.