Francesca Kelly of West Tisbury, a British transplant to Martha’s Vineyard and owner of Marwari horses, traveled to England earlier this month to participate in an equestrian event as part of the year long ceremonies honoring Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of the 60th year of her reign.
The four-day Diamond Jubilee Pageant, held on the private grounds of Windsor Castle, featured over 550 horses and more than 1,000 dancers, musicians, and performers from around the world.
Ms. Kelly, along with Raghuvendra Singh Dunlod, are co-founders of the Indigenous Horse Society of India. The pair brought eight Marwaris, members of a rare Indian breed, that was once close to extinction to the celebration. Marwaris are characterized by their inward turning ear tips and intelligence.
Ms. Kelly produced the Asian portion of the program, which consisted of seven acts from different parts of the globe.
The Indian spectacle included 12 traditional dancers, a large group of musicians, five riders, and two trainers. Performing concurrently was a group of riders from India and Pakistan who demonstrated tent pegging, a cavalry sport of skill.
“The horses were racing at full gallop diagonally intersecting the arena with the riders picking out pegs attached to the ground,” Ms. Kelly said. The costumed dancers — both equine and human, performing on adjacent stages — made for a fast-paced, colorful spectacle.
“It was such an honor to be invited to participate,” Ms. Kelly said. “As a Brit, to do that in my own country was very emotional for me.”
After the show, Ms. Kelly, Mr. Dunlod, and three of the dancers were among the guests invited for tea with the queen at Windsor Castle. Ms. Kelly just received a letter of thanks from Buckingham Palace recognizing her for her participation in the event and thanking her for a set of scarves featuring the Marwaris which Ms. Kelly designed and presented to the Queen.
Ms. Kelly spends about four months every winter in India where she produces a series of performances tribal dancers and 23 local Marwaris that she maintains. As well as choreographing the shows, she also performs, although she did not perform for the jubilee. She also stables horses on Chappaquiddick.
Ms. Kelly, who comes from a family of British diplomats, has been riding since she was three years old and living in Egypt. In 1994, she and her husband at the time took part in a riding safari in India. She fell in love with the indigenous horses (the Marwari is the most popular of the five breeds that are represented by the Indigenous Horse Society) and set up the first major Marwari stud farm in India in 1995.
In 2000, Ms. Kelly and her then husband settled full time at their summer home on Chappaquiddick. That year she was able to fulfill a longtime dream when she became the first person to export Indian horses to the U.S. She brought six horses over to Chappy and has been breeding and training them here ever since.
Despite increased restrictions on Indian horse exports, Ms. Kelly is able to arrange for artificial insemination with horses in India. “Because of my two decades of philanthropic work with the breed, I have a certain leeway that is not available to other people,” she says.
Ms. Kelly does not raise the horses for profit, but rather to maintain the breed. However, she has sold a few of her horses, including a seed herd of three that went to Spain, and she has donated three to the non-profit Kentucky Horse Park.
Today she has eight horses in the U.S. and one in England. She winters the horses at a farm in New Jersey and keeps them here in the summer on land on Chappaquiddick that she leases from the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation. The Marwaris on Chappy attract a lot of attention. A photographer included pictures of them in a prestigious salon show in France, they will be the subject of an Australian documentary next year, and Ms. Kelly has published a coffee table book documenting her experience exporting the horses — and is working on a follow-up. Both are illustrated with photos by accomplished horse photographer Dale Durphee of England.
Ms. Kelly has been able to combine a number of her passions to produce the Dancing with Horses shows. “I love dance, I love music, and I love the performing horses,” she said. “It comes quite easily to me to put together a creative performance native to India.”
Ms. Kelly is devoted to raising awareness of the Marwaris, working on decreased export restrictions, and establishing the breed in the U.S. and elsewhere. “The Indian horse is, without a doubt, the oldest horse in the world,” she said. “They have extraordinarily soulful personalities. They’re not what I call horizontal horses — not overly domesticated. They’re sensitive. They have very special temperaments.”
The horse that starred in the jubilee pageant was a former Chappaquiddick horse named Dilraj (King of Hearts in Hindi) who Ms. Kelly sent to England in 2006 because he was prone to escaping. “He was high-spirited. He needed to work,” she said.
Next week, the other horses will be returning to the Vineyard for the summer. “They love the Island,” Ms. Kelly said. “They know the trails. This is their home.”
A documentary on the Diamond Jubilee Pageant will air on British TV on June 3. It will eventually be seen on American television. Ms. Kelly said she also plans to screen it on Island somewhere this summer.