You probably won't find much on the Ili horse Karen.. You have to dig to find their little bit of fame in history. They are famous among horsemen in China though and very prized for endurance racing!
I'll post a link below that explains something of their history, and their connection to the Ferghana horses of the Tang Dynasty.
Briefly though, here's my understanding of the story.
During the Han dynasty, which stretched from 220 BC to 220 AD, a tribe of people from the Gansu area, which borders now on Mongolia and XinJiang, were driven out by the marauding, nomadic, Turkish speaking XiongNu. They eventually settled, along with their horses, around the Ili (Yili) River area, in the north west of XinJiang, just 60 odd km from the Kazhakstan border, and also bordering Russian and Mongolia. There are huge grasslands there, up in the mountains, behind high passes. Perfect horse country! Their city was called Wusun.
During this time, horses were treasured by the Imperial Army, but the horses from China were small and not very athletic. There were many reports of magnificent strong and fast horses from the north and west. The Han Emporer Wu-ti needed a lot of good horses to be able to withstand the invaders from the north - the army lost more than 20,000 horses between 121 and 116 BC. He once consulted an oracle, who said that the divine horses would come from the northwest, and he sent soldiers to search the Western regions.
At that time, Wusun was a country with a population of 630,000 but an army of 188,800. It was a major power in the region and courageous enough to stand up to the Hun in the north and to flight against them as an equal. Zhang Qian, Wu-ti's envoy, (and the pioneer of the silk road) advised Wu-ti to make alliance with Wusun against the Hun, and the emperor agreed. Zhang Qian led a mission of 300 with a great amount of valuables to Wusun. The ruler of Wusun accepted the gifts from Han Dynasty and reciprocated with tens of their best horses.
Later, a princess of Wusun was married to a Han prince, to cement the bond, and the ruler of Wu-sun delivered thousands of excellent horses as a betrothal gift.
The "Ili Horses" became the Emporers "Celestial horses". ... For about 12 years...
During his travels, the envoy Zhang Qian (who must have been a remarkable explorer!) spent some time in the Ferghana Valley, (Dayuan) to the north, over the Tianshan ranges, and was very impressed by the horses there. They were much taller than the indigenous Chinese horses. They were named the "Han xue ma" which means "sweat blood horse". People still talk about this phenomenon today, and when I was there I couldn't figure it out - they swear it's true. Apparently though, it's because of a parasite under the skin.)
Okay, now look up Dayuan on Wiki and you will
find something interesting!
The Dayuan were probably the descendants of the Greek colonists that were settled by Alexander the Great in Ferghana in 329 BCE, and prospered within the Hellenistic realm of the Seleucids and Greco-Bactrians, until they were isolated by the migrations of the Yuezhi around 160 BCE. Alternatively, it has also been suggested that the name "Yuan" was simply a transliteration of the words â€œYonaâ€, or â€œYavanaâ€, used throughout antiquity in Asia to designate Greeks (â€œIoniansâ€), so that Dayuan (lit. â€œGreat Yuanâ€) would mean "Great Ionians".
(I thought those Tang horses and saddles and poses looked familiar!!)
Wu-ti decided his army must have these horses! He sent an envoy with a vast treasure of gold coins to buy them. They were murdered, and much of the treasure destroyed.
Wu-ti was furious, and sent 6000 horsemen and thousands of foot soldiers to take the horses by force. They were defeated. Two years later, he sent an army of 60,000 men, 30,000 horses, 100,000 head of cattle and thousands of donkeys and camels marching out towards Fergana. They reached the capital and successfully besieged it. In the resulting treaty, Dayuan gave Wu-ti ten of their best breeding stallions, and three thousand "ordinary" stallions and mares, as well as an ongoing agreement to send a further two of the best stallions every year.
The horses, (along with grapes for wine making, and Alfalfa seed!) were taken back to China, and a breeding program was commenced there - the results of which can be seen in the artwork of the next dynasty.
The Dayuan horse was tall and robust, better even than Wusun (Ili) horse. The arrival of "treasure horses" strengthened Han armed forces, and the Dynasty grew more powerful and stable.
Wu-ti renamed the Ili horses "west-end horses," and called the new Ferghana horses, the "heavenly horse" in it's place. He even wrote a poem:
The heavenly horse comes from the West-end;
The clever and mighty conquers the vicious.
The artwork from the Han Dynasty shows these magnificent "Celestial Horses" in markedly different poses to the "Tang" horses of the next dynasty. The Tang Dynasty was renowned for being very stable and strong, and for supporting culture and learning, and in this climate all the arts flourished, including horsemanship, I believe. It was also, interestingly, the only period in Chinese history when women played an equal role. This is why you can see male and female riders playing polo together. Women were even allowed to have many boyfriends!
Despite their horses being passed over for the new Tian Ma, the people in JiaoSu township, in the heart of the mountains of the Ili area are still very proud of their horses, and still use the title "Heavenly horses" for them. Ili ma are still much sought after for racing. They have a reputation much like Arabs for us. If there is an Ili horse, trucked in from somewhere for a race in another area, the locals won't have a chance.
This is only the first part of the story..http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_focus ... _72757.htm
And this is the other side of the story, which also doesn't tell the whole.. but has some really fascinating facts. (Immolation of living things during funerals was banned in 384 BC, and that's when the practice of creating terracotta images was started.)
And this account puts the two halves of the Tian Ma story together http://www.silk-road.com/artl/wuti.shtml
I have not sought the horse of bits, bridles, saddles and shackles,
But the horse of the wind, the horse of freedom, the horse of the dream. [Robert Vavra]