Australian Brumbies

Many stations in remote areas have a brumby mob or two. So long as numbers don’t get out of control, they’re usually left alone, although sometimes they’ll be yarded and some of the best types broken in to work. Station brumbies are descendants of working horses or pensioners that escaped into larger paddocks — most of them not many generations earlier. There are larger mobs of brumbies in state forests and national parks.

Many people have a romantic vision of wild horses galloping freely down a scrubby mountainside with long manes and tails streaming. Unfortunately the reality of the life of many brumbies in national parks and remote areas is uncontrolled breeding, no veterinary care and no handfeeding during drought — often ending in a long painful death due to injury, disease or age-related problems. Mother nature at her most typical, but it’s not pretty. In-breeding can result in genetic defects and ungainly confirmation such as unusually large heads and other oddities. Starving horses with untreated injuries and diseases, and colts and stallions fighting viciously for herd supremacy doesn’t fit the romantic dream — but unfortunately that’s sometimes the reality of a brumby’s life. 

National parks have been set aside to preserve the natural environment for future generations and no feral animals have a logical place there, amongst the native animals and plants. Ideally brumbies could be trapped and relocated to privately owned land (enabling some sort of management to take place, even if it’s just ensuring food and water is adequate during droughts, avoiding in-breeding and humanely euthanasing animals in severe pain). Trapping is a realistic possibility in inland areas where watering points are centralised but in areas where water is plentiful, horses have to be mustered into trapyards. Helicopter shooting has occurred in some inaccessible areas but politically it’s not popular. Noisy opponents often seem short on realistic alternatives, or they argue that the horses have no impact at all on the environment. Everything has an impact on the environment, it’s called the web of life, it’s just the degree of impact that is debatable. Research conclusions seem entirely dependent on who has commissioned the research.

New Zealand has had similar discussions regarding the Kaimanawa horses, a herd of wild horses located in the mountains of the same name on the North Island. Some major animal welfare organisations clearly had a dose of realism because they recommended helicopter shooting as the most humane method of reducing numbers — far less traumatic than capturing them.

Some people insist that all brumbies are worth rescuing and training for horseriding however others argue that a horse not handled by people at all until adulthood can never be as reliable as foals handled from birth; and why bother when there are truckloads of domesticated but unfortunately ‘superfluous’ horses sent to the knackery?  Few people seem to pay much attention to these early-retired racehorses etc; they don’t have the romantic cache that brumbies do, unfortunately. Proposals to reduce numbers of a  handful of  brumbies, whose existence has a negative effect on the environment, always result in a furore.