There is a breed of horses in Australia renowned for their toughness and endurance. They were the chosen horse for stockmen, bush rangers, troopers and early explorers, but also highly prized in war.
In all its beauty and diversity, Australia is still considered a harsh climate. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Australian horses were bred for their stamina and strength, and became renowned for their toughness and endurance in the battlefields of war.
The earliest horses in Australia can be traced back to the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in January 1788, which included nine horses. The early imports included the Thoroughbred from the Cape of Good Hope, which largely descended from the Barb and Spanish horse, and the Arabian, Timor Pony and Welsh Mountain Pony. It was from these imports that the Australian Stock Horse and ultimately, the Waler Horse were bred.
The Australian Stock Horse was bred for intelligence, courage, and toughness. It was necessary for the horse to be sure footed, agile and quick moving, with a calm and responsive temperament. The height of an Australian Stock Horse generally ranges from 14 hands to 16.2 hands. Overall the Australian Stock Horse is a well-muscled horse with a deep chest, strong, broad back and powerful hindquarters.
The Waler Horse, bred from the Australian Stock Horse is a much larger horse, and developed to carry a rider with the extra weight of weapons and a full pack, in war time. As larger horses, some were required to pull water carts and carriages. Although the Australian Stock Horse and the Waler Horse are today considered to be separate breeds, they have similar roots and still retain similar characteristics.
Originally a riding horse, the Australian Waler gained its name from its breeding origins in New South Wales. It became known as a New South Waler, and was developed into a hardy horse with great endurance to withstand stress from lack of water and food. They were widely used as a Stockman’s horse; the chosen horse of bush rangers, troopers and early explorers of inland Australia, and prized as a military remount.
The Waler horse began to be transported overseas from the 1830’s, and between the 1840’s and 1940’s there was a steady trade in Walers to the British Indian Army. The Waler became the backbone of the Australian Light Horse forces during the Second Boer War and World War 1 of the twentieth century. Ideally the cavalry horse was docile, courageous and fast as it carried the rider into battle.
Walers standing 15 to 16 hands high were the preferred horses for cavalry duties. These horses could carry sixteen or seventeen stone consistently, day after day. The load they carried included the rider, saddle, saddle cloth, bridle, head collar, lead rope, a horseshoe case with one front and one hind shoe, nails, rations for the horse and rider, a bedroll, change of clothing, a rifle and about 90 rounds of .303 rifle ammunition.
Australia dispatched 16,314 horses overseas for use by the Australian Infantry Forces in the Boer War. In the First World War, 121,324 Walers were sent overseas to the allied armies in Africa, Europe, India and Palestine, of which 39,348 served with the First Australian Imperial Force. Due to quarantine restrictions, only one horse ever returned to Australia; ‘’Sandy’’, the mount of officer, Major-General W.T. Bridges, who died in Gallipoli in May 1915.
The hardiness and perhaps character of these Australian Walers can possibly be summed up by another known Waler of World War 1; the mount of Major M. Shanahan, named ‘’Bill the Bastard’’. This horse was renowned for bucking when asked to gallop. However, when the Major found four Australians outflanked by the Turks, ‘’Bill the Bastard’’ carried all five men (three on his back and one on each stirrup) through soft sand, 75 miles to safety – and galloping, without bucking!