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Brumby Horses: All About Australia’s Feral Horses

By Alex Verwest


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The Brumby horse is a special wild Australian breed that can be found around the Australian Alps, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

It is an iconic feral horse breed that, while not exactly numerous, has managed to gain quite a lot of attention over the years from both equine lovers and the common folk alike.

They can be found in groups, which are known as mobs or bands around the east and northern side of the continent, and interestingly enough, depending on who you ask, they can either be regarded as a symbol of Australia’s history or as an environmental pest.

What many people don’t know though is that the history of the Brumby horse goes way farther than that, in fact, we would argue that the Brumby horse breed has one of the most fascinating origins you’ll ever read about.

So, in this article we will go through everything that makes the Brumby horse stand out, including its rich history, its unique appearance and its feral nature.

So, without further ado, let’s start with one of the most interesting aspects of the breed:

The Origins of the Brumby Horse

Brumby Horses
Photo by enes / stock.adobe.com

Interestingly enough, despite being regarded as one of the most important pioneers of Australian history around, the continent of Australia has no real indigenous horse breeds.

In fact, the very first horses that ever landed on the continent happened to be aboard the First Fleet in 1778, which is exactly why we can’t help but feel like there’s more to the Brumby breed than meets the eye.

Many people believe that the name may originate from Sergeant James Brumby, a man that lived in New South Wales all the way up until 1804 when he decided to leave for Tasmania.

He is said to have owned this type of horses back in the day, only to let them run wild soon after his departure, pretty much changing the course of history in doing that since the breed spread like wildfire.

But that’s not the only theory around, in fact, it is only one of many as there is very little concrete information about the Brumby horse breed out there.

Gray Brumby Horses
Victorian Brumby Association / facebook.com

Some people believe that the name of the breed may have originated from the indigenous Australian word for “wild”, while others believe that it could just be the Irish word for a colt.

While we may never get an official answer that we can prove to be true for this though, we can still say for sure that we know that the Brumbies are the direct descendants of the previously domesticated horses that ran off into the wild back in the day.

Because they did live in the wild, they bred with other horse breeds all the time, including Thoroughbreds, Timor ponies, draught horses and even some British native breeds that were running around back in the day.

Brumby Horse – Origins
Photo by Donna Crebbin / horseandhound.co.uk

But not everybody believes that the horses were just left to fend off for themselves by Sergeant James Brumby, because some other experts believe that the climate was just too much for him to handle, and his horses ended up breaking away from the farm, causing all cattle and sheep to escape at once.

Regardless of what caused them to run rampant through the wilderness, one thing’s for certain and that is that nobody knew what to make of the feral Brumbies.

Some people believed them to be somewhat of a resource, others saw them as a national treasure, but at the end of the day, most experts agreed that they were nothing more than a pest running amok the wilderness.

This was back in the day though, and things have changed quite drastically since. Nowadays they are regarded as a part of modern Australia’s heritage, and you can read about them through Banjo Paterson’s poems and Elaine Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series.

Brumby Horse Boodlines

Brumby Horse Boodlines
Photo by Robyn MacRae / wikipedia.org

Another interesting fact about the Brumby horse breed is the fact that its bloodline is a combination of multiple groups of breeds. Amongst these, the most popular ones are:

  • The Thoroughbred
  • The Irish Draft
  • The Arabian
  • The British Pony
  • The Australian Draft

On top of that, despite being known as a feral horse breed, it has been domesticated a lot over the years due to its athletic ability and trainable nature.

So, while it is still not recommended that you actively pursue a feral Brumby horse in the wild, you can still get your hands on a trained horse that will fit any and all of your requirements.

The breed has been used a lot over the years for a multitude of equestrian activities too, including show jumping and even trail riding, in which it has seen quite a lot of success so far.

Brumbies at a farm
Photo by Cgoodwin / wikipedia.org

This means that you can even go for a Brumby if you’re looking for a reliable competition horse, as they are more than capable of keeping up with any other breed out there.

Keep in mind that this horse breed has been left off to fend for itself in the Australian wilderness back in the day, which has drastically altered the breed’s gene to the point where it is by far one of the hardiest and most intelligent breeds out there.

The Brumby’s popularity also spiked quite drastically during the two World Wars and during the Boer War, as they were more than readily equipped to take on the toughest of conditions, even going as far as to outperform some of the other breeds with very little training on field.

As the industry of war continued to evolve though, the demand for horses steadily decreased, to the point where very few of them would even be added to the ranks anymore.

As such, the population of feral horses increased significantly once again, and they started to be regarded as pests once more due to how many of them were sprawling the empty fields at this point.

Brumby Horses Uses

Brumby Horse – Uses
Photo by Donna Crebbin / horseandhound.co.uk

Equine sports aside, experts have found an even better use for the Brumby horse, one that no other horse can really match.

They have been captured in the wild, fitted with GPS tracking collars and then released back, all so that they can be used in extensive comparative research of the terrain on the health and morphology of their hooves.

Because of this, we now have quite a lot of information regarding their paths of movement, their diet, their watering patterns and of course, their mob structure.

Besides this though, as mentioned previously, they can also be used as stock horses where they’re trained so that they can compete.

On top of that, the spiking in popularity of the feral nature that these horses have has led to them being captured and then put up on display for tourist attraction.

Brumbies have also been sold off on the European horse meat market, and are known to be quite proactive from this point of view since they contribute millions of dollars to the Australian economy every passing year.

The Brumby Project
The Brumby Project / facebook.com

Another interesting use for the horse came from them being used in brumby training camps. Here, young riders will get to train a feral Brumby horse over the course of several weeks, and if they are successful in their quest, they’ll actually be awarded for it quite handsomely.

Last but not least we would like to mention the fact that Brumby horses may also be used in the brumby catch and handle event from the stockman’s challenge competitions.

Due to their feral nature, they are the perfect candidates for the job as the wild brumbies are released and the riders are supposed to catch them within a time limit of a few minutes.

If the riders can catch their feral horse without inflicting any pain or being too physical with them, they are rewarded more points, so while this can seem like a pretty hectic sport, the horses are never in any real danger outside of just being scared for a few minutes before they are calmed down and rewarded.

Brumby Presence in Art and Media

Brumby Horses Australia
Photo by Milosz Maslanka / stock.adobe.com

We briefly went over just how popular they are around Australians, but what we didn’t go over is the fact that a big reason as to why they are so popular to begin with is because they are often times portrayed in Australian arts and media.

This is because the Brumby is often times considered to be a national symbol of Australia, which is why they have been featured very heavily in many novels, paintings and films over the years.

AB ‘Banjo” Peterson, one of the most popular Australian bush poets, journalists and authors became quite famous after writing “Brumby’s Run” and “The Man from Snowy River” for example.

On top of that, Elyne Mitchell, an equally impressive Australian author, has made a name for herself after writing a collection of children’s books titled “The Silver Brumby”.

These stories in particular were considered to be the real backbone behind the Brumby’s newfound popularity with both the Australian youngsters and the older generations alike.

As such, it didn’t take long for the story to eventually be adapted into a movie. The movie immediately became a cult classic thanks to its main leads, Russell Crowe and Caroline Goodall giving their performance their all.

Another notable appearance of the Brumby horse image comes from the ACT Brumbies, who used their likeness for their emblem. This rugby union team dominated the sport for a while, bringing even more fame and glory to the Brumby lineage.

How Many Brumby Horses Are Around?

Brumby Horse – How many

The main reason as to why there are so many Brumby horses out there is because they have no real natural predators to keep their numbers in check.

As such, the population of Brumbies around has been steadily growing since their official release back in 1778.

It is believed that nowadays there are as many as 400,000 Brumby horses in the wild, and that their numbers have been steadily growing year after year.

This is why, despite being considered a national icon for many Australians, authorities have encouraged both the equine experts and the ordinary folk alike to not attempt to domesticate them and instead just leave them on their hands for now.

Needless to say, the damage that they inflict on the vegetation and the environment in general is not something that should be tolerated all that easily, especially since their numbers are increasing exponentially with every passing year.

Many believe that the Australian Brumby should be culled altogether, with only a handful of them being left and these specimens being domesticated once and for all to make sure that they can’t spread anymore at will.

The debate resurfaced back in 2017 and 2018 when the culling was officially brought up to the people.  It was dismissed shortly after though due to many of the people involved stating that the horse is a beautiful aspect of the Australian landscape and that it shouldn’t be messed with.

A counter-campaign was started back in 2018 when a group of people managed to pass a law which prevented the culling in the Kosciuszko National Park.

It didn’t take long for the debate to be sparked up yet again a year later after large mobs of Brumbies moved into untouched areas, pretty much changing the landscape as we know it into a barren wasteland.

Introducing a new horse breed into a landscape is not exactly the end of the world, but due to the large number of Brumbies around and how quickly they can impact their surroundings, it didn’t take long for them to destroy the native plants and creatures’ ecosystem.

Brumby Horse – How many are there

The aerial culling by helicopter was proposed back during the 2018 period, but most people rejected it simply because it seemed to be too barbaric and cruel for them.

Even so, there are still many that believe that this is the only way for the population to be controlled anymore.

Other than that, some people believe that trapping, rehoming and fertility control should be considered before the aerial culling should even be brought up.

The only problems with this though is the fact that this method is largely seen as quite ineffective, and not only that but it is also quite expensive, which is why many people are against it today.

In May 2020, the culling was brought up yet again by the Federal Court in Victoria, where they settled on the fact that the welfare and heritage of the breed should not be brought up as a counter argument ever again.

So, any and all of the Brumby horses that may make their way to Victoria’s Alpine National Park will not be protected by any laws, so the locals could technically proceed with the culling on their own.

Many Brumby lovers have brought up the fact that this is outrageous, that the decision itself is devastating and that we should work towards protecting our heritage as opposed to butchering it like common swine.


Brumby Feral Horse
Photo by Paquita Fadden / pixabay.com

While the current affairs regarding the Brumby horses are more depressing than anything, what we can say about this feral horse breed is that we still think that they are very beautiful to behold and more importantly, their contribution to the Australian history and heritage is definitely worth noting.

So, regardless of whether you believe them to be a pest or a beautiful part of Australian’s lineage, we can safely say that we are happy to know so much about this strange yet unique horse breed.

Brumby horses pin

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About Alex Verwest

Alex is an equestrian consultant who has co-founded several successful start-up companies and worked with various international equestrian businesses. Using his experience and connections in this field, he loves to introduce readers to many outstanding small equestrian brands, sharing stories about equestrian lifestyle and trends. Learn more about Seriously Equestrian's Editorial Process.