Australia’s history could be said to have been written on the back of a horse. In many ways, the development has paralleled that of the United States. Horses were used for transportation and in working the cattle stations. As in the United States, horses are not indigenous to Australia.
The history of horses in Australia begins in 1788 when the First Fleet arrived, bringing with it English Thoroughbreds and Spanish horses. Horses were essential for the development of the colony and in subsequent years, more Thoroughbreds were imported, along with Arabians, Welsh Mountain ponies and Timor ponies. Only the toughest horses made it – not only did they have to survive the arduous journey by sea, but the new colony presented challenges of terrain and vast distances. The interior of Australia was explored on the backs of these horses.
From these foundations, the Australian Stock Horse was developed, originally called the Waler, after the colony of New South Wales. Through the years, the Waler served as a military mount during the Indian Mutiny, the Boer War and in the Middle East during World War One.
After the mechanisation of transportation, Australian horses waned in popularity until the 1960’s, when recreational riding became more prevelent. The Australian Stock Horse Society was formed in 1977 to promote the breed, since up until then there had been no stud book or registry, although the Waler was recognized as a distinctive type.
Nowadays, the Australian Stock Horse is a versatile horse, used in a variety of equestrian sports, such as Dressage, Polocrosse and Campdrafting. Campdrafting, like cutting in the United States, began with friendly competitions between stockmen. Eventually it developed into a recognized sport with its own set of rules.
The Australian Brumby, much like the American Mustang, is a feral horse descended from those early imports. Unfortunately for the Brumby, there is little demand for these horses as a riding horse because of the inconsistency of type and quality. They are viewed as a pest, because they compete with cattle for resources such as pasture and water and the herds are regularly culled.
Nowadays, the horse industry in Australia is diverse and thriving. Horse racing is popular to the extent that the whole country grinds to a standstill for the running of the Melbourne Cup — the day is actually designated a public holiday in the city of Melbourne!
In addition to the Australian horses, many breeds of horse are now popular in Australia, from Miniature horses, to Arabians and Morgans. They participate in the full range of equestrian sports, as well as being much-loved companions.
In short, horses have been as important to Australia as they have been to the United States and to Great Britain. Their future looks set as more and more people are getting involved with horses and recreational riding the world over.