Imagine the Man From Snowy River without his hardy mountain pony or Clancy of the Overflow forced to travel on foot. It’s unthinkable hey?
They would be nothing without their unnamed horses and nor would Australia. The old saying “Australia rides on the sheep’s back” wouldn’t mean much if pioneers on horses didn’t drive sheep to the stations in the first place.
Right from the start Capt. Arthur Phillip knew the value of horses to the infant colony. He picked up seven fine animals at Cape Town en route here. A stallion, a colt, two fillies, and three mares. New bloodlines were introduced in time. But from this very small foundation legendry Australian bloodlines grew. Importing horses was difficult back then, especially if one imported from as far away as Britain. Many animals died on the trip. Only the hardiest survived and that enriched what we had here.
As our equine numbers grew, a mixed bag of various breeds were introduced the quality and versatily of Australian horses expanded. Breeds like Clydsdales, Arabs, Timor ponies and many others developed breeds of types of horses suited for our conditions. The breeders’ addage “form follows function” proved true over and over again.
In the late 1830s a British Cavalry Officer took a small consignment of Australian horses back to his Regiment in India. On the way back he stopped of at Cape Town to take some South African horses as well. These animals were part of an experiment to find suitable remounts. The African horses were nicknamed “Capers” and the Australian “Botany Bays”. Both, it seems, were terms of contempt. But terms of contempt are often very wrong. These “Botany Bays” quickly proved their worth. They were:
as drought resistant as a horse could be; tough and hardy; intelligent and co-operative (and therefore easy to train); they were loyal and courageous; and, cool and calm under fire.
They quickly became the horse of choice by British cavalrymen and Indian Rajahs with private armies. Their name was changed to “Waler” being short for New South Walers. At that time the name meant the whole of Eastern Australia.
Its place in history is established fact. “Waler” is a name we can say with pride. Of the 500,000 Walers we sent overseas to serve in our army and the armies of our allies only one came back, a horse named Sandy. We’ll tell his story some other time.
When horses were replaced by mechanised means of travell the breed faced extinction. When breeding programms stopped most were released into the wild and then the eradication programmes began.
But the breed that carried our Light Horsemen into legend was not finished yet. The Waler Horse Society of Australia Inc. was founded in 1986 to keep the legend alive. Check out their website for more info: http://www.walerhorse.com/whsa/
Wally (The Bear)