In modern times transporting horses around the world isn’t such an extraordinary thought. They are loaded on a plane and off they go arriving at their destination safely and happy and usually in a short time frame but back when Australia was first settled, it wasn’t so straightforward. They spent anywhere from 9 -12 months on a ship in conditions that only the toughest survived.
The first horses arrived in Australia in 1788 with the first fleet, they consisted mainly of thoroughbred and Spanish breeds. To survive such a grueling trip and then adapt to their new environment they had to be strong. When that first ship arrived, it had on board a stallion, 4 mares, and 2 yearlings as more settlers arrived by ship more horses and breeds arrived and from there is where the history of the Australian horse began.
They were used to help build the new colony, from exploring the new land to transport, communication, and farming. As the colony developed more breeds of horses were introduced, the weak were moved on and the strongest used to breed with. It is from these origins that the Waler developed, a strong, reliable horse with plenty of stamina and hardiness. Their reputation for having these qualities is what led them to be eagerly sorted by the British military and trade soon developed with thousands of the breed shipped overseas, the first Australian breed Walers were sent to war in India in 1857. They were more reliable than other breeds and for this reason, up to 160,000 Walers served in World War 1.
By 1810 the first horse race in Hyde Park Sydney took place and there were now 203 horses in NSW. From here and throughout the next century the equine population of Australia dramatically grew and now we have approximately one million domestic horses in Australia.
So next time you hear about our Australian equestrian team heading off overseas or the international racehorses coming to Australia, spare a thought for what the very first horses had to endure on their trip and how important they were in building this country and our equine industry.
Written by Selena. P