The first horses brought to Australia were from the South African Cape, and arrived in 1788. Thereafter, more and more were imported, particularly Thoroughbreds and Arabs). These two breeds gave rise to the Waler, which evolved mainly in New South Wales where the largest settlements were. The descendants of those first horses are the Australian Stock Horse, and the Brumby, the wild horse of the outback.
The original Waler was bred as a working horse on the vast sheep stations, and was used in harness as well as under saddle. It was also regarded as an excellent cavalry remount; R.S. Summerhays said in his Observer’s Book of Horses and Ponies, 1968, that between the Battle of Waterloo (1815) and the Crimean War (1854), Australia had probably the world’s best saddle horse.
Until the 1930s the Indian cavalry took many Walers, and during the First World War Australia provided some 120,000 for the allied forces. Like those used by General Allenby’s Desert Mounted Corps, “they did not come home”. The Sydney memorial on which those words appear virtually marked the end of the Waler, although the name and some horses persisted until after the Second World War. By then the Waler, originally bred from Arabs, Thoroughbreds, and Anglo-Arabs, was “close to being a pure-bred Anglo-Arab, in many cases with a preponderance of Thoroughbred blood” (W.J.B. Murphy, in Richard Glyn’s The World’s Finest Horses and Ponies, 1971).
The Waler was a type rather than a breed. Although it was not exceptionally fast, it was agile and had remarkable stamina. It stood between 1.52-1.63 m (15-16 hh), had plenty of bone, and could carry 102 kg (16 stone). It was hardy, resistant to heat, and had a sound constitution. This amenable horse could also jump ? in 1940 a Waler was recorded as jumping 2.54 m (8 ft 4 in).
THE AUSTRALIAN STOCK HORSE
The Waler’s successor, the Australian Stock Horse, has not yet achieved fixity of type. It usually resembles a good-class hunter, but the height may vary. Essentially, it is still an Anglo-Arab, tending very much towards the Thoroughbred in its outlook, but infusions of outside blood have led to wide variations in appearance. There is a small pony influence, some Percheron), and, perhaps more importantly, some input from the very popular Quarter Horse.
This breed was introduced to Australia in 1954, and now has its own Quarter Horse Association. The Stock Horse is promoted and represented by the Australian Stock Horse Society, which aims to standardize the “breed”. It has had considerable success in this task.
The Stock Horse is still used on the big stations as an all-rounder. Like the Waler, it is an enduring, even-tempered horse, and is notable for very good legs and feet, ample bone, and natural balance. It is still the largest single group of horses in Australia, and reflects the Australian preference for a versatile horse of Thoroughbred character.
After the great Australian Gold Rush of 1851, many horses escaped from the mining settlements and ran wild in the scrublands. These horses came to be known as Brumbies. Although some have been caught and tamed, they are usually far too wild to be of any practical use. The Brumbie degenerated in quality, but developed a survival instinct that enabled them to withstand the harsh climate and avoid the stockmen who hunted them.
In the 1960s the number of horses was such a problem that a huge culling operation took place. Ausralia is a land of plenty, and sparcity, with years of flood followed by years of drought. The wild brumbies cuased huge problems for stock and native animals and have been culled for decades. Whilst seen by some as an unavoidable necessity, others see it as callous, and brutal.
The brumbies are usually not good riding horses, as the wild has selected those that can live on sparce feed, and those that are especially wild, so they tend to be rangy and fierce tempered.