The Brumby is Australia’s iconic feral horse, now numbering in the thousands. They are found in groups known as mobs or bands throughout the north and east of the continent. Viewed as either a positive legacy of Australia’s pioneering past or an environmental pest, Brumbies are a controversial topic. However, their history is as fascinating as that of any other horse, and their historic contribution to the creation of Australia cannot be denied. They have many fans too, creating opportunities for those who are knowledgeable about the breed to sell a Brumby. Enthusiasts who buy a Brumby praise their hardiness and character.
Origin and History of breeding Brumbies
The continent of Australia has no indigenous horses. The first horses to arrive came with the First Fleet in 1778. The origin of the name Brumby is intriguing. The horses are possibly named after Sergeant James Brumby, who lived in New South Wales until 1804 when he left for Tasmania. It is said his horses were released to run wild.
An alternative suggestion is that the term comes from an indigenous Australian word meaning wild. It has even been suggested that Brumby is derived from an Irish word for a colt. Perhaps the truth is that it is a conflation of all of this! What is certain is that Brumbies are the descendants of previously-domesticated horses who ran wild in the outback. As imports increased, all kinds of horses were added to the mix, including Thoroughbreds, Timor ponies, draught horses and examples of British native breeds.
As the harsh realities of attempting to farm and keep cattle and sheep in Australia’s climate began to bite, many horses were abandoned. Others escaped. The feral Brumbies were sometimes viewed as a resource, sometimes as a pest. They became part of modern Australia’s heritage through the poems of Banjo Paterson, and Elaine Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series, about the stallion Thowra and his wild herd.
Use and characteristics of the Brumby horse
As feral horses that have roamed in Australia for over 200 years, modern Brumbies are resilient survivors. They can cope with Australia’s notorious climatic and environmental conditions. Horses of different shapes, sizes and colours are found in the herds. These descendants of horses and ponies of various breeds and types carry some rare bloodlines, some of which no longer exist elsewhere.
The original imports were initially used as riding horses and for farm and ranch work. Modern Brumbies still carry out their traditional role as stock horses. They are also increasingly used in youth programmes in which youngsters with social issues go to camp to learn to tame and ride a Brumby. They are a popular choice for equestrian games that have developed from the culture of stock management. Some are sold to the meat market. Supporters of the Brumby highlight their potential as a tourist attraction.
Brumby horses in equestrianism
Many Brumbies participate successfully in equestrian sports and other activities. There is a registry for Brumbies. They are still a good choice as a station horse and have contributed to the creation of the Australian Stock Horse. Some wild Brumbies are trapped to be tamed and rehomed. Others are culled, a controversial option.
Brumby horse: a modern-day controversy
While large numbers of Brumbies are seen as damaging to the environment, threatening indigenous species, some point to their benefits. They help to keep paths open for walkers and they may benefit some indigenous species. The rare mealy Pangaré Brumbies are an unusual group managed by the Outback Heritage Horse Association of Western Australia (OHHAWA).