Horses of Australia Series

No 5- Brumby

A Brumby is a free-roaming wild horse in Australia. Although found in many areas around the country, the best-known Brumbies are found in the Australian Alps region. Today, most of them are found in the Northern Territory, with the second largest population in Queensland. A group of Brumbies is known as a “mob” or “band”.[1]

Brumbies are the descendants of escaped or lost horses, dating back in some cases to those belonging to the early European settlers, including the “Capers” from South Africa, Timor Ponies from Indonesia, British pony and draught horse breeds, and a significant number of Thoroughbreds and Arabians.[citation needed]

Today they live in many places, including some National Parks. These national parks include; Alpine National Park in Victoria, Barrington Tops National Park in NSW, and Carnarvon National Park in Queensland. Occasionally they are mustered and domesticated for use as campdrafters, working stock horses on farms or stations, but also as trail horses, show horses, Pony Club mounts and pleasure horses.[2] They are the subject of some controversy – regarded as a pest and threat to native ecosystems by environmentalists and the government,[3][4] but also valued by others as part of Australia’s heritage, with supporters working to prevent inhumane treatment or extermination, and rehoming Brumbies who have been captured.[5]

There are no known predators of feral horses in Australia, although it is possible that dingoes or wild dogs occasionally take foals. On average, 20% of the feral horse population dies each year, mainly from drought, poisonous plants and parasites. Few feral horses reach 20 years of age. The maximum possible rate that feral horse numbers can increase is 20–25% per year.

Origin of the term

The term Brumby refers to a feral horse in Australia.[7] The first recorded use in print[8] in 1871 has the connotation of an inferior or worthless animal, and culling of feral horses as a pest soon became known as Brumby shooting. The Australasian magazine from Melbourne in 1880 said that Brumbies were the bush name in Queensland for ‘wild’ horses. In 1885, the Once a Month magazine suggested that rumbies was a New South Wales term, and the poet Banjo Paterson stated in the introduction for his poem Brumby’s Run published in the Bulletin in 1894 that Brumby is the Aboriginal word for a wild horse.[9] Its derivation is obscure,[10] and may have come about from one or more of the following possibilities:

  1. Horses left behind by Sergeant James Brumby from his property at Mulgrave Place in New South Wales, when he left for Tasmania in 1804.[11]
  2. An Aboriginal word baroomby meaning “wild” in the language of the Pitjara Indigenous Australians on the Warrego and Nogoa Rivers in southern Queensland.[12] The term is supposed to have spread from that district in about 1864.[13]
  3. A letter in 1896 to the Sydney Morning Herald says that baroombie is the word for horse among the Aboriginal people of the Balonne, Nebine, Warrego and Bulloo Rivers.[14][15]
  4. Baramba, which was the name of a creek and station in the Queensland district of Burnett, established in the 1840s and later abandoned, leaving many of the horses to escape into the wild.[16]
  5. It has also been suggested that the name derives from the Irish word bromach or bromaigh.[14]

Earlier nineteenth century terms for wild horses in rural Australia included clear-skins and scrubbers.[17]

Early horse imports

Horses first arrived in Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet. They were imported for farm and utility work; recreational riding and racing were not major activities. By 1800, only about 200 horses are thought to have reached Australia. Horse racing became popular around 1810, resulting in an influx of Thoroughbred imports, mostly from England. Roughly 3,500 horses were living in Australia by 1820, and this number had grown to 160,000 by 1850, largely due to natural increase.[18] The long journey by sea from England, Europe, and Asia meant that only the strongest horses survived the trip, making for a particularly healthy and strong Australian stock, which aided in their ability to flourish.[19]

Origin of feral herds

Black-and-white photo of a well-groomed Brumby standing sideways to the camera, wearing a Barcoo bridle but no saddle, set up in a squared-up conformation stance, as if at a horse show.

A Brumby that was caught in the Apsley River Gorge.

Horses were likely confined primarily to the Sydney region until the early 19th century, when settlers first crossed the Blue Mountains and opened expansion inland. Horses were required for travel, and for cattle and sheep droving as the pastoral industry grew. The first report of an escaped horse is in 1804, and by the 1840s some horses had escaped from settled regions of Australia. It is likely that some escaped because fences were not properly installed, when fences existed at all,[3] but it is believed that most Australian horses became feral because they were released into the wild and left to fend for themselves.[20] This may have been the result of pastoralists abandoning their settlements, and thus their horses, due to the arid conditions and unfamiliar land that combined to make farming in Australia especially difficult. After World War I, the demand for horses by defence forces declined with the growth in mechanization, which led to a growth in the number of unwanted animals that were often set free. Throughout the 20th century, the replacement of horses with machines in farming led to further reductions in demand, and may have also contributed to increases in feral populations.[21]

Currently, Australia has at least 400,000 horses roaming the continent.[22] It is also estimated that, during non-drought periods, the feral horse population increases at a rate of 20 percent per year.[23] Drought conditions and brushfires are natural threats.[3] Despite population numbers, feral horses are generally considered to be a moderate pest.[24] Where they are allowed to damage vegetation and cause erosion, the impact on the environment can be detrimental, and for that reason can be considered a serious environmental threat. However, because they also have cultural and potential economic value, the management of Brumbies presents a complex issue.[3]

Brumbies roaming in the Australian Alps of south-eastern Australia are thought to be descendants of horses which were owned by the pastoralist and pioneer, Benjamin Boyd.[16] Feral horses in Barmah National Park mainly originate from stock released by a local horse breeder after 1952, there was no significant long term population of “wild” horses in the park area prior to this date.


Pangaré Brumbies

On the coast south of Geraldton, Western Australia the Brumbies there are known as ‘Pangare Ponies’, as they appear to carry the rare Pangaré gene. This colouring is commonly known as mealy and is seen mainly in a number of old breeds such as British Ponies, Timor Ponies, Haflingers and even Belgian Draught Horses. The gene causes lightening in parts of a horse’s coat, resulting in a mealy coloured muzzle, forearms, flanks, and the belly. It is sometimes seen in chestnut horses with flaxen coloured manes and tails.[26]

The Pangaré Brumbies appear to have adapted well to their coastal environment, where they are consuming saltbush, which they do not appear to be damaging. The Department of Environment and Conservation and the Outback Heritage Horse Association of Western Australia (OHHAWA) are monitoring these particular Brumbies to ensure the careful management of these unusual feral horses.[27]


A bay horse (brown body with black mane and tail) wearing a headcollar, standing in a green paddock with trees in the background

This Brumby was used as a safe and reliable mount for a rider who was in her 70s.

Brumbies have been captured, fitted with GPS tracking collars, and used in extensive comparative research into the effect of terrain on the morphology and health of different horses’ hooves. They have their paths of movement, diet, watering patterns, and mob structure tracked and recorded.[28] [29]

Captured Brumbies can be trained as stock horses and other saddle horses. Encouraging viewing of feral herds may also have potential as a tourist attraction. Brumbies are sometimes sold into the European horse meat market after their capture, and contribute millions of dollars to the Australian economy. Approximately 30% of horses for meat export originates from the feral population. The hides and hair of these horses are also used and sold.[18]

Wild Brumbies are used in Brumby training camps by organisations that promote positive interaction between troubled, high-risk youths. These camps usually last several weeks, allowing youths to train a wild Brumby to become a quiet, willing saddle horse while improving the youths’ self-esteem.[30]

Wild Brumbies are also used in the Brumby catch and handle event in stockman’s challenge competitions, where riders are required to catch a free running Brumby from their horse within a time limit of a few minutes. Sectional points are awarded for the stockman’s challenge for care and skill in catching the Brumby and their ability to teach them to lead. These demanding challenges for riders are held in New South Wales at Dalgety, Tamworth and Murrurundi[31][32][33] plus The Man From Snowy River Challenge in Corryong, Victoria.[34] Several New South Wales show societies, including Walcha, Bellingen and Dorrigo, hold special classes for registered Brumbies at their annual agricultural shows.[35]

The Distribution of brumbies in Australia
A small group of horses grazing next to a paved road
Brumbies grazing on Alpine Way near Dead Horse Gap
A small group of horses just visible at the end of a field with tall forested hills behind them
Brumbies on the Chandler River, Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.
Four thin horses and a foal in a pen fenced with pipe panels, some eating hay
Brumbies awaiting their new and safe homes

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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