Meitei Sagol: Manipur takes host of decisions to save its fabled equines from extinction

Manipuri Ponies are one of 7 recognised Indian equine breeds; they are also the original polo ponies as ‘Sagol Kangjei’ gave rise to modern polo

The Government of Manipur has recently joined hands with various organisations and associations to save the Manipuri Pony or Meitei Sagol, its fabled equine, from vanishing into the pages of history.

“A joint meeting of the Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association, Manipur Equestrian Association, Manipuri Pony Society and officials of state veterinary and animal husbandry department was held in Imphal in this regard on May 16) and took some resolutions,” Khogendrajit Singh, director of the state veterinary and animal husbandry department, told Down To Earth.

The decisions of the joint meeting include immediate response to herd the ponies; demarcation of an area to temporarily accommodate the animals; constitution of a task force; holding of  consultations; preparation of a budget for pony management; surveying grazing grounds and permanent habitats of ponies; ownership of ponies and thereafter responsibilities, maintenance and care; finalisation of stud books for pony registration; and formalisation of census of ponies through stakeholders, Singh added.

The Manipuri Pony Conservation and Development Policy (MPCDP) was framed in 2016, in order to conserve the Manipuri Pony. The Meitei Sagol is one of the seven recognised horse and pony breeds of India. The others include the Marwari Horse, the Kathiawari Horse, the Zanskari Pony, the Spiti Pony, the Bhutia Pony and the Kachhi-Sindhi Horse.

A unique animal

The population of the Manipuri Pony, a highly valued breed, has been dwindling rapidly in recent times – from 1,898 animals in the 17th Quinquennial Livestock Census 2003 to only 1,101 in the 19th Quinquennial Livestock Census 2012. In the last livestock census done in 2019, the number had dropped further to 1,089.

Shrinkage of wetlands, the natural habitat of the Manipuri Pony due to rapid urbanisation and encroachment; lack of polo grounds/polo playing areas in rural Manipur; restriction of pony usage except in the game of polo; uncontrolled diseases; and the exodus of ponies to neighbouring states and countries are some factors for the decline of the pony in the state, according to the MPCDP.

The Manipur government declared the Manipuri Pony as an Endangered Breed in 2013.

The Manipuri Pony, though a small breed of 11 to 13 Hands, is known for its unique stamina, agility, intelligence, speed, manoeuvrability and great adaptability to harsh geoclimatic conditions.

The breed is regarded as the original polo pony as modern polo is derived from the traditional Sagol Kangjei sport of Manipur.

The ponies figure prominently in the Manipuri way of life. Besides traditional events like Lai haraoba and being used in sports like polo and horseraces, they were also utilised as mounts by cavalry of the Manipur Kingdom which was feared throughout upper Burma during the 17th century, the MPCDP added.

Chief Minister N Biren Singh wrote on X on May 15, “To protect the endangered Manipuri Pony, they are now given a new home at the government allotted 30 acres of grassy fields at Lamphelpat, Imphal West where they can freely roam and graze. The Manipur State Government has been taking up various measures to protect the Manipuri Pony which is closely tied to the state’s history & culture.”

“We gave the game of modern polo to the world, and considering the importance of this animal, their preservation requires support from the masses. I also appreciate the Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association for their initiative to save the precious yet endangered Manipuri Pony,” Biren Singh added.

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