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Don and the Burke’s Backyard team travelled to the Snowy Mountains in south-eastern New South Wales. They met with some of the people who live in the high country and asked them what they think of Australia’s wild horses, the brumbies.

Damage to national parks

There’s no doubt that hard-hoofed, feral animals can do a lot of damage in some areas, particularly in fragile, alpine environments like the Kosciuszko National Park. That is why many people, including park rangers and conservationists, hate the brumbies and want to get rid of them. They say that these horses are inbred, of poor general constitution and conformation, and full of parasites. Also that brumbies are virtually impossible to break, and you’d be hard pressed to find one useful horse in a mob of twenty or so.

Sad fate

While most people would agree that wild horses do not belong in national parks, many have a problem with the way the horses are culled, and the fact that the carcasses are left to rot or end up in cans of pet food. In October 2000 over 600 brumbies were shot from helicopters in Guy Fawkes National Park, near Dorrigo in New South Wales. As a result, the National Parks and Wildlife Service was prosecuted by the RSPCA for acts of cruelty and aggravated cruelty to 226 horses. This case is still before the courts.

What the mountain people say:

Ted Taylor told Don that the brumbies are very sure footed, with excellent legs and feet. In fact, he owned one that never needed to be shod. Jill Luther said that out of 12-14 horses owned by her family, the brumby they own has the smoothest canter. Terry Pierce said that brumbies make the best kids’ ponies of all, and his two daughters agreed. Chantel and Bonnie-Rae both ride brumbies and describe them as “really good horses”. Terry thinks it’s a shame that so many good brumbies are wasted. John Rudd uses brumbies as riding school horses because they are very quiet, easy to care for and seem to be able to hold their condition much better than other horses. John says the brumbies have strong constitutions and are well adapted to tough conditions. Jim Pierce, who is paralysed from the chest down, rides a brumby-thoroughbred cross using a custom-made saddle. His horse has been trained to lie down to allow him to mount, then it gently and smoothly stands up. Jim says he has a lot of trust in his horse, and the horse trusts him.

Don’s conclusion

A lot of the things that are said about brumbies are simply nonsense. These horses are particularly well conformed, they have great legs and feet and they move well. It is silly to say that they are inbred. Nature selects for a very functional animal, and the brumbies are far more functional than horses bred by humans.

However, horses are not native to Australia and they damage the environment. While horse populations do need to be controlled, there is no doubt that the brumby, the wild horse, will be part of the high country forever.