It was a public holiday here in Australia today, because of ANZAC day. Across the country we remembered the men and women who went to war, particularly the men who fought at Gallipoli during World War 1.
Noeline Franklin (from Brindabella and the Miles Franklin family) emailed me exactly a year ago asking that on ANZAC day we might also remember the horses that went to war.
About 160,000 horses from Australia went to WWI.
Australia’s mounted soldiers included stockmen from the High Country – mostly volunteers who took their own horses.
The story goes, that at war’s end, many of these men were asked to shoot their horses. The horses could not come home.
For Noeline, the brumbies that now roam the High Country are their descendants and represent “the free spirit of our people and the horses who never returned”.
Many of the horses that went to war from Australia were known as ‘walers’. According to Michael Keenan’s ‘In Search of a Wild Brumby’: “The initial breed was English thoroughbred stallions joined to mares with genetic links to the draught horse. Over the decades the genetic pool was deliberately widened to produce a hardy horse, suitable for the unpredictable stresses in a battle environment. Such breeds as the Welsh pony, Timor pony and the wild brumby were introduced to refine what became known as the ‘classic waler’, with fine clean legs and bone, wide barrel-like chest, short back and a broad head. Unlike the thoroughbreds, the waler could hump weights for long distances, endure searing heat, survive on any available grass and, if called upon, unleash bursts of speed only marginally slower than their big cousins.”
There are now plans in place to rid most National parks of brumbies including horses identifed as ‘classic walers’ because they are considered ‘exotics’ and not a natural part of the Australian bush. The above picture is from the savethebrumbies.org website which describes the slaughter of over 600 brumbies in the Guy Fawkes River National Park six years ago.
Paul Williams says
I believe the troops in Palestine were told their horses could not be brought home, and rather than leave them in appalling conditions being worked to death by the local inhabitants, many of the soldiers chose to take them for one last ride into the desert and shot them.
Many were left behind, and only one horse returned to Australia, that of the commanding officer of the Light Horse.
Ann Novek says
I’m a horsewoman myself, I grew up next to a racetrack and I have owned 16 horses. I have never heard this story before, a very sad story indeed !
Ann Novek says
One more comment. Australia and Iceland have those strong regulations regarding importation of horses from foreign countries.
In Iceland it’s forbidden to import horses because they want to protect the domestic Icelandic horse, Australia is afraid of horse diseases. The equestrian part of the Olympic Games could never take part in Melbourne 1956 , due to those strong regulations, it was held in Stockholm.
Bernard Rochlin says
We may need these horses and the skills of managing these creatures in the event of “Peak Oil” happening.How many Australians have equestrian skills? Horses and man formed a tight bond for more than 3000 years and many of our metaphors are horse orientated.
There must have been profound sadness amongst members of the Light Horse regiment at the loss of their valued steeds.
As an afterthought I am listening to ABC Classic to music about “The White Horse Inn”.