Although Wild horses galloping across the rugged bushland epitomises the spirit of freedom in Australian Heritage, the management of the Brumbies has become a controversial and complex discussion.
Australians are divided on whether to cull these majestic wild horses because they are causing detrimental damage to the environment with their ever-increasing numbers. Still, to many Australians, these untamed creatures are a symbol of the high country and live on in children’s books poetry and films!
Read on to find out how the Brumby came to be, what makes them unique, and whether to cull or not to cull?
1. Why are Australian wild horses called Brumbies?
The term “Brumby” was first recorded in print in 1871. The name Brumby is thought to have taken its name from James Brumby, a soldier and blacksmith who arrived in Australia in 1791.
The Brumby is a free-roaming feral horse found in many regions around Australia. The term Brumby has the implication of an inferior or worthless animal and culling of feral horses as a pest was known as Brumby shooting.
A horse is a hoofed mammal used throughout history for riding, or hauling as a working animal, whereas a Brumby is a wild or feral horse. Unlike the term ‘herd’ for a group of domesticated tamed horses, a group of Brumby horses is known as a ‘mob’ or a ‘band’
The Brumbies are mostly found in the Australian Alps, Northern Territory and Queensland today.
2. Why were Brumbies introduced to Australia?
Horses arrived in Australia in 1788 transported on the ships of the first fleet. The strongest and most physically resilient horses survived the long strenuous journey to Australia by sea. This is partly why Brumby has flourished so well.
No horses were native to Australia as the natural environment was mostly too harsh for hoofed grazing animals.
Initially, only seven horses arrived and were initially used for working on farms and utilities. As machines replaced horses, many domesticated horses were released into the wild to join other brumbies over the years.
Nowadays Brumbies can be found in different areas as they have become well adapted to the Australian habitat. These areas include forests, rocky ranges, wetlands, tropical grasslands and more. The Brumby now exists in every state and territory apart from Tasmania.
3. What is the Brumby cull?
A Brumby cull is a means of reducing the population, whether by aerial and ground shooting or rounded up and removed from the area.
Horses are captured by mustering, a practice where people on horseback capture feral horses out in the bush by Brumby Runners. Some are taken to be sold or new homes found for them in horse sanctuaries. While others are neutered before being reintroduced into the wild.
4. How do Brumbies affect the environment?
Brumbies are trampling the environment, killing vegetation, disturbing the soil, causing wildlife burrows to collapse, and having various detrimental effects on the population of native species. They create paths along frequently used routes which leads to soil loss, compaction, and erosion. As they graze, they destroy native plants and chew on bark as well as spreading invasive weeds. Their presence can foul waterholes and damage bog habits.
Some see them as invasive species which are trampling ancient ecosystems already hurt by climate change. There is a particular concern in the wake of the catastrophic bushfires that the presence of Brumbies adding to the damage already caused to the habitat of critically endangered species and unique alpine ecosystems.
Although relatively well behaved they have been known to affect humans by crashing into cars, knocking over bins, and dropping their faeces indiscriminately. When two stallions are in one area, they can become quite wild leading to even more trampling and environmental damage. They are also grazing on land and drinking water for domestic herds and so competing for pasture with native animals and livestock.
5. Why is there controversy over the culling of Brumbies?
People are divided on culling the population of Australian Brumby to minimize the environmental damage caused and control of the growing population. Many people feel the wild horses are a beautiful feature of the Australian landscape and are a national symbol of its rich history.
The debate of culling Brumbies from those who want the wild horses to be preserved is argued by the fact that Brumbies have coexisted within the environment for a couple of hundred years with minimal existence of a population explosion.
No doubt Australia suffers extremely high rates of plant and animal extinction, and as large mobs of Brumbies move into untouched areas there is a significant impact on the landscape. The Alpine environment is particularly sensitive to damage because it has evolved without hoofed animals before the settlers arrived. So, native plants and creatures have not had time to adapt to the roaming of Brumbies.
The damage contributed by the Brumby pales into insignificance when the real destruction is being caused by other feral animals like the pigs, deer, dogs, rabbits, cats, and foxes. Brumbies are being mistakenly blamed for the damage being done by the explosion of deer and pigs in recent years.
6. How many Brumbies are in Australia?
The Australian Brumby has an estimated population of over 400,000, spread across nearly all landscape types of the continent from snow-covered ranges to tropical savanna to desert.
A contributing factor to the widespread growing population of free-roaming horses is that they have no known predators. In favourable years the brumby population can grow 20% a year which means a rise in the thousands. The damage caused to the vegetation and the impact that their movements have on the environment in such numbers is considered detrimental.
They are also often remarkably easy to approach in free-ranging situations and appear curious or even open to human interaction.
7. Are brumbies protected in Australia?
Just as controversial as culling, the protection of Brumbies causes much debate. Consequently, the management of Brumby has become a complex discussion.
Many Australians feel that the horses are such a beautiful aspect of the Australian landscape and a national symbol of its rich history. In 2018 the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage campaigners forced a bill that protects the brumbies in the Kosciuszko National Park.
Brumbies both in Victoria and the ACT have now the ‘Brumby Bill’ which has a level of legal protection through the NSW Government, with Victoria launching its Feral Horse Strategic Action Plan. This plan aims to protect native species and ecosystems in national parks by removing or controlling feral horses. However, in the past few years, people are still searching for an answer to the increasing population of horses.
8. Which breed of horse is a Brumby?
The Australian Brumby’s bloodlines combine a varied group of breeds. These include Thoroughbred, Arabian, Irish Draft, British Pony, and Australian Draft to name a few.
The Brumby can be any colour. Their height varies between individuals but can range from 14-15 hands and have an average weight. Some Brumbies have slightly heavy heads. They generally have a short neck and back with straight shoulders and sloping quarters. However, since some Brumbies carry a good deal of Thoroughbred blood, often some are found to be refined and well conformed. They can live for 20-30 years.
Brumbies which have been domesticated have excelled as endurance horses or even in equestrian activities from trail riding to show jumping. They are renowned for their hardiness and intelligence. Their athletic ability and sure-footed movements are linked to them being hardy in the bush which was their natural home. Brumbies that have been captured and trained in many cases have become reliable riding horses and sensitive companions as well as competitors. They can easily connect with people and are highly faithful to their owners.
The Brumby became a favoured warhorse during World War 1 and 2 and in the Boer War with horses from the Northern Tablelands being drafted for use in the Light Horse Regiments in early times.
9. Does the Brumby feature in Art and Media?
The Brumby has an important part as an Australian national icon and has been immortalised in prose and song as part of Australian Folklore
Not only are the photographs or paintings of wild horses running together magical but also the films that have featured Brumbies are legendary. Brumbies have captured the imagination of poets, novelists, and musicians alike.
One of the most famous films and poems is “The Man from Snowy River” which was filmed in the Snowy Mountains. It tells a story of a chase to reclaim an escaped colt racehorse who escaped from its paddock to join a clan of Brumbies.
Treasured by many ‘The Silver Brumby’ was a popular children’s book and was made into a film in 1993 featuring Russell Crowe. The story is of a mother telling her daughter a fable about the prince of the brumbies who must find its place among its kind, while one man makes it his mission to capture and tame it.
The film documentary released in 2014 ‘A Man from Cox’s River’ follows the fate of Brumbies in the Burragorang Valley. A daunting inaccessible wilderness in the Blue Mountains, bringing a fiercely independent horseman and feral control National Parks Ranger to see the world through each other’s eyes
The Brumby has also been used as an emblem by the ACT Brumbies, a rugby union team from Canberra.
10. Are there groups that save the Brumbies?
The Australian Brumby Alliance encourage and raise funds for caring for Australian wild horses.
As thousands of Brumbies continue to be aerial or ground shot across Australia, some because of random shooting even orphan their foals!
Even Brumbies that are rounded up can be sent to abattoirs and the plight of the Brumbies continues to be ever present.
The good news is that many devoted people across Australia have formed Brumby re-homing charities with volunteers taming and selling these highly intelligent horses. The charities rely on donations to pay for trucking, taking in, fencing, castration and feeding the horses until they are ready to be re-homed.
The ABA was formed to strengthen and bring together the efforts of like-minded groups such as these to protect and preserve a valuable part of our heritage and culture.
Save the Brumbies is a fully tax-deductible animals welfare charity where all donations received go directly to the welfare of the Heritage Brumby horses
Adoption of a Brumby is possible with any Adoption program being Animal Welfare (RSPCA) approved.
11. What is the Brumby Challenge?
A competition to tame a Brumby is known as the Australian Brumby Challenge where a trainer has 150 days to tame a feral brumby that has been trapped in the wild.
Run by the Victorian Brumby Association since 2013 it shows that The Australian Brumbies are capable of being outstanding riding horses. After the finals, the Brumbies are auctioned and sold to registered and vetted buyers