The Twist-Ear Horses of Rajasthan
My father was an art critic.
(He was a man of many talents. Ranching was his vocation and joy, but hardly his sole interest or area of expertise.)
He had sharp criteria for separating the artistic wheat from the chaff.
“If an artist can draw a horse that looks natural, with the foreleg stepping out right, and the head showing proper emotion, then you’re looking at the work of someone who knows what they are doing.”
I am a listener, and an absorber.
Because of our respective talents, I was immediately skeptical of the highly acclaimed school of miniature painting that has flourished in Rajasthan over the centuries.
One look at their horses and I think to myself: “These guys are frauds! Sure, they can paint thin lines in small spaces, and their fancy gold paint is nice, but their horses are junk! The ears are twisted all wrong, and pointing backwards all the time.”
While I am quick to judgment, I am also an observer, and an absorber.
I try to be humble and admit my mistakes as soon as I am aware of them: the Rajput painters deserve higher standing than I first gave them.
Why? Because the horses of Rajasthan have unusually shaped ears, and the artists were faithfully painting and carving what they saw.
Here in Jodhpur I was able to get my first close-up view of the local livestock. These equine are strikingly different than their European and New World counterparts.
The poor nags I saw draw small, two-wheeled carts that are public transit for the very poorest Jodhpuris.
Theses ponies were wickedly undernourished, just ghosts of the proud cavalry horses the painters saw and what I know enough to imagine. A recognized and rare breed, called the Marwari, their exportation from India is banned. And only in the last ten years have better cared-for representatives of the breed traveled outside of India.
All Marwaris share these strangely twisted, inward-turning ears, where the top opening of the ear points much more towards the middle of the skull, in comparison to European horses where the ears have a long, narrow, cupped-bayleaf shape.
You may trust me when I say horses ears are mobile and can be turned forward, side and back to pick up sounds of interest or to indicate emotion. My observation of the live Rajasthani animals (I want to call them steeds, but none seemed up to the task, sadly.) is that the twisted ears may have a reduced range of motion in comparison to their European cousins.
Or perhaps the continuous honking and beeping of Indian traffic has made their ears tired. Only the Marwaris know.
Now in doubt that “a horse is a horse, of course, of course,”
Lady with Falcon Leading a Horse
From the Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck Collection, Museum Associates Purchase (M.83.105.36)
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Hmm. Go figure.
I would’ve made the same assumption.
You can see the lines of the cavalry house in the cart horse, though. The muscle is there, and I can only imagine the movement. I don’t imagine these horses get a lot of space to run, but it would be interesting to watch a few of them moving together in a field, don’t you think?
For all you animal lovers out there, stay tuned for an upcoming post: horse vs. camel!