The Brumby is a free-roaming feral horse in Australia. Although found in many areas around the country, the best-known Brumbies are found in the Australian Alps region in south-eastern Australia. Today, most of them are found in the Northern Territory, with the second largest population in Queensland. A group of Brumbies is known as a “mob” or “band”. Brumbies are the descendants of escaped or lost horses and their history dates back to the early European settlers in the 1800’s. Breeds include the “Capers” from South Africa, Timor Ponies from Indonesia, British draught horse and pony as well as Thoroughbreds and Arabians.
The term Brumby refers to a feral horse in Australia. It can also mean free-roaming horses. Australia’s first horses arrived in 1788, through importation from England to Australia. Very few horses actually survived the voyage by ship. The name Brumby for Australian feral horses is thought to have been derived from a Mr James Brumby who arrived in Australia in 1791. James Brumby, born in Scotton Lincolnshire, was a soldier with the New South Wales Corps, he was also a farrier and it is thought that he was responsible for some horses in the early Australian Colony.
Brumbies are rarely of consistent size, conformation or colour. This is because they evolve and survive wild with the strongest traits showing over generations. Domestic mares may escape and mix with feral horse herds. Also, they were originally of mixed type, including draught and thoroughbred.
Origin of feral herds:
Horses were likely confined primarily to the Sydney region until the early 19th century, when settlers first crossed the Blue Mountains and opened expansion inland. Horses were required for travel, and for cattle and sheep droving as the pastoral industry grew. The first report of an escaped horse is in 1804, and by the 1840s some horses had escaped from settled regions of Australia. It is likely that some escaped because fences were not properly installed, when fences existed at all, but it is believed that most Australian horses became feral because they were released into the wild and left to fend for themselves. This may have been the result of pastoralists abandoning their settlements, and thus their horses. Life was very hard and due to the arid conditions and unfamiliar land this combined to make farming in Australia especially difficult for new Australians.
After World War I, the demand for horses by defence forces declined. Also the growth in mechanisation, led to a growth in the number of unwanted animals and they were often simply set free.
Currently, Australia has at least 400,000 horses roaming the continent. It is also estimated that, during non-drought periods, the feral horse population increases at a rate of 20 percent per year. Drought conditions and brushfires are natural threats. Feral horses are considered to be a moderate pest by some sectors of the community and government. Where they are allowed to damage vegetation and cause erosion, the impact on the environment can be detrimental, and for that reason can be considered an environmental threat. However, this could be a view by pastoralists who believe the Brumby competes for grass of their domesticated cattle therefore reducing the readily available feed which then as a result has to be supplemented by the Cattle owner.
Many believe the Brumbies have a cultural and potential economic value therefore the management of Brumbies (as with any feral animal) presents a complex issue.