Posted by: adventuressetravels | January 31, 2012

Death Rides a Pale Horse

The snow-white stallion arched his neck and thrust out his deep chest.  He was royalty and knew it.  Prancing down the cobble-stone path he showed off for his nearby herd of mares.  I tried to squeeze Bhallo to a trot or canter but could only get a few steps out of him before he balked in annoyance.  He was quite contented to prance slowly down the lane. I didn’t want to press my luck too much, especially with a stallion.  The stirrups were far too long for my legs not to mention the fact that I hadn’t ridden on a regular basis in ages.

India’s Marwari horses, horses from the land of death, are truly a sight to behold.  Hardly bigger than ponies, the truly unique aspect of these animals is their ears.  Just like death’s scythe, they are crescent-shaped and when their ears are pricked forward they have an almost demonic countenance.  But even stranger, they can swivel their ears 180 degrees.   I have been fascinated by these animals for years and longed to ride them when I got to India.

More useful to riding, is that this breed is a gaited breed.  In other words, in addition to the walk, trot, canter, and gallop they have a fifth gait, the rehwal, or revaal.  Many of them have it naturally, but they are easily trained in this quick prancing, four-beat gait that covers a lot ground and is easy to ride.


Marwari horses come from Marwar, an area in the region currently known as Rajasthan.  Marwar is translated literally, the land of death which easy to see why, because this arid country of deserts, warrior kings, and cobras is filled with death on all sides.



The Marwar warriors had a grand tradition of horsemanship.  Polo masters hail from Rajasthan; even the riding breeches of old was named after Jodhpur, a city in Rajasthan.   But the most impressive thing to come out of this grand tradition is the unique breed of steeds.  These brave war horses fought in battles just like their European counterparts and

steadfastly defended their riders if they fell.  Even today their traditional Marwari horse “dance,” similar to Lipizzaners’ airs above the ground is performed at festivals.

Unlike their European counterparts, the horses most valuable and lucky in India were the ones with the most white on them.  In fact, Indian culture has an obsession with albino horses.  In North Indian weddings the groom must ride in on a white mare; for weddings in other parts of the country he comes in drawn by a carriage pulled by white mares and white horses are always more highly prized.   When I learned that Marwar meant “land of death” I just laughed.  It made sense that pale horses came from the land of death.

I was lucky enough to stay at Narinderjit Singh’s albino stud farm in Amritsar, Punjab, India and to ride his magnificent white stallion, Bhalo.  His horses were everything that Marwaris should be.  Bhalo carried himself with the appropriate arrogant self-assurance, and the mares were doe-eyed and sweet, though this could have had something to do with the fact that they were all pregnant.

I wish that I had had more time to work with, ride, and get to know more about these fabulous horses.  If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend working with these unique horses from the land of death if you have the opportunity.

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