Monday, October 10, 2011

Australian Horses Series no. 2: Brumby

The brumby is Australia’s wild (or, more properly, feral) horse. Brumbies exist throughout the Australian mainland, from the harsh terrain of the outback to the magnificent high country of south eastern Australia. They have any number of influences from thoroughbred, stockhorse and Arabian to Percheron and Clydestale – depending on which horses have either escaped or been deliberately released into the wild in their area. We met a brumby undergoing retraining with natural horseman Eric Godward. It was the most alert and watchful horse I have ever seen. No wonder – it had a clean bullet hole straight through one ear!

I have wonderful memories of reading The Silver Brumby, by Elyne Mitchell, first published in the 1950s. The Man From Snowy River (based on the Banjo Patterson poem) was a favourite childhood film, not so much for the storyline, but for the beautiful shots of horses and riders moving through the high country. The involvement of the Lovick family in the horse sequences added an authenticity to the depiction of the high country and ensured some incredible riding scenes. I always got a bit of a tear in my eye when all the riders pull up after the brumbies plunge down a steep slope, and well … you’ll just have to watch it. It still remains absolutely spectacular and I’ve included a link below – including the descent of the slope and some lovely shots of horses moving through snow. The Lovicks selected some great riders as extras and it shows.

The high country is a stunning area extending from Victoria to New South Wales. I’ve had the pleasure of riding there with Watsons trail rides, but the Lovicks also offer Man From Snowy River themed rides. If you ever have the chance I urge you to explore this area on horseback – absolutely magical.

Of course, the real experience of the brumbies is somewhat less romantic than novel and film would suggest (though Mitchell’s horses are constantly on the run from humankind). Debate ranges over protection of the Alpine regions and whether culling is required to control brumby numbers in the high country and elsewhere. There have been some disastrous helicopter culls, resulting in the slow deaths of individual horses. There have also been attempts to train and rehome some horses. Like the American Mustang, the brumby has a difficult future ahead of it.

Some of the most beautiful footage of the Australian high country in The Man From Snowy River, not to mention a legendary cinematic moment – the alarming descent (from around 3:50 if you’re impatient, and lovely snow shots at 5:40):

Some organizations attempting to help the brumby: