Breed: Australian Stock Horse
Temperament: calm, intelligent and responsive
Cost: $1500 – $30,000
Lifespan: up to 30 years
Maintenance: high by pet standards
Recommended for: general horse enthusiasts
During the First World War, the Australian Light Horse Regiments took part in the greatest cavalry exploits in modern history. Alongside other nations it was the Australians, and particularly their horses, that outshone the rest. Regarded as the finest cavalry mounts in the world, these horses even travelled further, faster and longer without water than desert camels.
The horses were starved for food, often only being watered every 36 hours. At the battle of Beersheba they went 52 hours without water.
121,324 of these hardy horses were sent to the Middle East during WWI, only one returned. Many Australian Light Horsemen elected to shoot their mounts, their best friend, rather than leave them to a miserable fate and death in the Middle East.
This wonderful type of horse has survived however, and is now known as the Australian Stock Horse.
The Australian Stock Horse is a product of its environment. Horses are not native to Australia (the first arrived with the First Fleet in 1788), though they have adapted extremely well through natural selection and selective breeding by horse men and women alike.
Originally the Australian Stock Horse was simply a ‘type’ of horse. From the days of early settlement right up until the prevalence of motorised transport, the horse was the primary mode of transport and a valuable economic tool. The horse was essential in ‘opening up’ the terrain, working the land and assisting with the spread of settlement. Today it is still a preferred and most practical means of undertaking many rural activities such as mustering, checking fences (called boundary riding) and general transport across properties.
Settlers and workers required a horse which was strong, sturdy and confident on its feet and could stand up to the harsh and varied Australian climate. This horse was not simply one breed but a combination of several different breeds, each with attributes which, when passed on, proved beneficial to coping with the Australian bush.
In 1971 a group of dedicated horsemen and women attended the inaugural meeting of the Australian Stock Horse Society in Sydney. This type of horse, for all its efforts, sacrifices and great contribution to the Australian psyche, had not been officially recognised before this time. Subsequently, a Stud Book was opened and remained open until 1988. Since the closure of the Society’s Stud Book, only horses that comply with strict regulations have been accepted for registration.
The ‘Waler’ is the predecessor of the Australian Stock Horse. It was the Waler (the name being derived from New South Wales, where many of this type of horse were initially bred) which bolstered the Allied regimental ranks and contributed so much to Australian military lore. The Waler was not a breed of horse but a type which was bred according to the same principles as the Stock Horse of today; a robust and hardy horse well suited to the Aussie conditions.
The Australian Stock Horse Society holds the view that Walers are part of the base stock of today’s current Australian Stock Horses.
It was the use of the horse on the sheep and cattle stations which perhaps proved most influential to the development of the Australian Stock Horse. These stations were rugged, vast and mostly unexplored, defined simply by markers and features on a map. As such, no one particular horse was initially suited to the terrain. Horsemen would use Thoroughbreds, Arabs, mountain ponies, Percherons and much later, early Quarter horse types. Any combination of these and other breeds were used if horsemen thought their steed would stand up to the challenge.
Today’s stock horse tends very much towards the Thoroughbred in its type though there is still a wide variation in its appearance. The eyes should appear alert and intelligent, the forehead broad with wide nostrils. The neck is long though well proportioned to the body. A deep chest and well-sprung ribs enable good passage of air to the lungs (assisted by the broad head and large nostrils). The back is strong and broad without too much length. Legs are slender and strong (though not as slender as a Thoroughbred’s) and the horse will be agile and quick moving. The feet are hard and can withstand wear on hard ground.
The ‘engine room’ – the hind quarters are strong and powerful, well-muscled and nicely-rounded. The horse will appear balanced in all respects according to its size.
But how different is the current Australian Stock Horse from those that went off to fight in WWI? Today’s stock horse is not as big. Those earlier horses had to carry the rider, their rifle and a full pack. The horses were also required to be strong enough to pull water carts and carriages, a task normally reserved for the heavier breeds of horse in more peaceful times. Apart from size and weight, many of the characteristics of those horses are still with the stock horses today.
The Australian Stock Horse has excelled at many equestrian sports including camp drafting, polocrosse, polo, working, led and ridden classes, showjumping, hacking, sporting events, Pony Club, dressage, eventing, endurance and even Riding for the Disabled.
It is renowned for its versatility, soundness and sureness of foot.
By the virtue of its work amongst stock, in rough terrain and around other horses, the Australian Stock Horse requires a sound and calm temperament, compliant to its rider and equally responsive at the beginning and end of the working day. Naturally, the horse’s temperament can be influenced by the relative skill of its trainer and rider. However the stock horse is renowned for its stable temperament, and is ideally suited to children and those learning to ride.
Compared to other horse breeds, the Australian Stock Horse is a relatively low maintenance breed requiring no special care other than standard horse husbandry. A diet of good quality lucerne, supplemented with grains and minerals if required, plus regular grooming, hoof and teeth care is sufficient. However, do not be fooled into thinking a horse is cheap and easy to run. Horses as a rule are very labour intensive animals.
Health & lifespan
Australian Stock Horses will live between 20-30 years and do not have any specific equine health problems other than that suffered through natural ageing. All conditions known to horses, such as navicular, laminitis, stringhalt, arthritis and melanomas may afflict Stock Horses but are not prevalent or unique to the breed.
Depends on the quality of type and the amount of work and training the horse has obtained. Prices can range from $1500 – $3000 for a good gelding up to $3000 – $30,000 for well bred and well trained breeding stock.
The excellent nature of this horse can make it suitable for most riders of all skill levels. Naturally the temperament and skill level of both horse and rider should be matched. It is paramount that, before electing to buy a horse, full consideration be given to the long term prospects of owning such an animal. Horses are expensive and will remain so for the term of their not-so-short lives.
Research for the historical elements of our segment on Stock Horses was greatly assisted by an excellent book on the history of this breed – “The Australian Bloodhorse” by Douglas M. Barrie. Originally published in 1956 by Angus & Robertson and printed in Australia by Halstead Press, Sydney. This book has been out of print for many years. Try second hand book stores for copies.
We filmed this segment in the Hunter Valley, N.S.W. with the assistance of Terry Blake, Gerald O’Brien, and other members of the Australian Stock Horse Society.
Terry and his family breed Australian Stock Horses. His family has worked their ‘Rosebrook’ property for almost 100 years and have always bred working horses. Terry is well known for breeding Australian Stock Horses for polocrosse and cattle work.
Gerald O’ Brien is an accomplished stock horse trainer and has contributed to large scale events such as the spectacular opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
For further information on the Australian Stock Horse, contact Terry on (02) 6543 1492, Gerald on (02) 4987 4891 or
The Australian Stock Horse Society
Phone: (02) 6545 1122
PO Box 288, 48 Guernsey Street
SCONE NSW 2337