Breed name: Manipuri Pony, or Manipur
Country of origin: India
Breed origin: The Manipuri Pony is an ancient breed indigenous to India. Its origins are disputed, with some saying it descended from Mongolian horses crossed with Arabians and ponies, and others saying it was developed from the Tibetan pony. What is undeniable is the breed’s connections to many other Asiatic pony breeds. The fact that it thrives in a semi-wild state, grazing on communal pastures and being brought in only when needed, alongside its incredible stamina, certainly suggests Mongolian origins. The Meitei people of Manipur long regarded the Manipuri Pony as a deity. The breed’s ancestor was said to be a winged pony created by the god Sanamahi to avenge the loss of his birthright to his brother, Pakhangba. In retaliation, Pakhangba captured the pony and cut off its mane and wings. It then became the domesticated horse used by the Meitei ever since. The Manipuri Pony features strongly in songs and rituals, and so does polo – ancient Meitei manuscripts describe the first ever game of polo taking place in 48 A.D.! The development of the Manipuri Pony and the development of Polo are inextricably linked. In the 19th century, British polo players created such high demand for the breed that a ban was imposed on exporting the ponies from Manipur to give the breed population time to recover! Even today, polo players in Manipur competitions must be mounted on Manipuri Ponies. However, outside of Manipur, the height of the polo pony has increased to such a degree that true ‘ponies’ are now very rarely used.
The traits that made these ponies unbeatable at polo also made them sought-after cavalry mounts. They have been ridden by Meitei warriors armed with darts; by the formidable cavalry that terrorised Burma in the 17th century; by British troops in World War II; and even by today’s cavalry in Manipur.
Modern day Manipuri Pony: Today, many Manipuri Ponies still live semi-wild in the rapidly urbanising landscapes of Manipur. The breed’s health is suffering, with habitat loss causing many ponies to resort to contaminated food and water sources. Many live on the streets, and together with poisoning, road accidents account for the drastically increasing mortality rate. The breed is currently estimated to consist of around 500 individuals. Efforts to save the ponies have resulted in their re-integration into polo, with many tournaments now organised in which all competitors must be mounted on Manipuri Ponies. Government and non-government organisations in Manipur are pushing to save the breed, but in a region where struggle and conflict is the norm, the ponies are just one of many challenges facing the authorities and the residents.
Distinguishing features: The Manipuri Pony is small, strong and hardy. It survives well on natural grasses and is extremely sure-footed. It has a short back, a strong, well-angled shoulder, a clean, straight head, kind eyes, a muscular neck, deep chest and girth, strong hindquarters, clean legs, and tough, compact hooves. It has a thick, coarse mane and a rough coat. Some Manipuri Ponies have a curly coat, known as ‘Tukhoi’. Standing between 11-13 hands high, Manipuri Ponies come in all solid colours, as well as many spotted and patterned colourings.
Image credits: Ashima Narain, Pinterest.