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About Walers

In thier heyday, opinions as to "what is a Waler" varied according to time and place, according to the purpose for which they were bred and the preferences of the breeder concerned.

Today, opinions as to "what was a Waler", and What is a Waler now", vary according to interpretation of historical evidence.

Our approach is to consider all available historical evidence, identify the horses which maintain those attributes common to their ancestors and which are in danger of being lost, preserve them in their offspring.

Horses purchased for military service, for example, varied according to availability and demand. The W.W.1 Artillery horse, Mounted Infantry horse, Cavalry Charger, were different types; and different again from those horses of the same catagory in the 1930s. Yet all had points in common which made them Walers; in conformation, breeding, abilities, temperament.

The term Waler was applied to horses bred in the Colony of New South Wales.

It was never limited in application to a Cavalry Charger type

The old blood and generations of hard living, deprivation and adaptation which was the Walers foundation cannot be copied or re-created today.

For more information: www.walerhorses.com and armba.org.au/waler.htm

Cartoon 1

Some historical quotes………

Horse breeding, says Mr. Robb is easy provided one keeps up the quality with the strain and classing breeding mares so as to use only active medium weight draughts. In the course of an interview Mr. Robb outlined the breeding methods which will produce the right kind of horse. Putting a thoroughbred sire to an active medium draught mare produced the heavy artillery horse. The thoroughbred sire is again put to the mare of this cross to produce the light artillery horse. The thoroughbred sire again on the second cross produces the three-part bred remount which should have plenty of bone and stamina, provided by the draught blood, while the thoroughbred sire maintains the level of breeding.
The Australian medium draft horse was once famous throughout the world as a willing worker and fast mover
Indian Remount Trade - Outlet for South Australian Horses. Adelaide Stock and Station Journal, November 23 1932

The Waler was mainly grass or hay-fed in his own country and the bigger type did not do well on the short rations while in South Africa. A report by the Assistant Inspector of Remounts in South Africa describes the type sent to that country as "light on the leg, ewe-necked and angular. Has undeniable quality and was expected to prove hardy, wiry and untiring. This type has not done well in South Africa." The small cobs, known in as "nuggets", were excellent, but the larger type both from New Zealand and Australia lacked recuperative powers, though another report spoke well of them. This report has a description of the small Waler, written before the South African War, which leaves no doubt how useful he was. ‘The "nuggets’ was a ‘big little" animal, a symmetrical, typical English three-quarter-bred hunter of 16hands to 16.2, focused into a height of 13.2 or 13.3 hands with slightly lower withers. These horses have combined stamina, courage and speed; their paces, when on a long ride, are a jog and a canter. They are in Australian parlance "cut-and-come-again" customers. The smartest stock horses, those in use for drafting cattle, are also small and handy and well up to twelve stone.
Regular Army Horse Remounts. - Major G. Tylden

Lt. Col. Maygar, V.C. and his grey horse were both severely hit.
Cartoon 2Australia’s walers, already world-famous for their work in India and in the South African and Russo-Japanese Wars, were in this company subjected to a searching comparative test. They proved by common consent incomparably superior to all their rivals, except perhaps the best of the horses from the British Islands which included a number of valuable hunters and officers’ chargers.
Expert horsemen differed as to the best type of horse disclosed by the miscellaneous Australian remounts in the campaign. Some good judges expressed a preference for the stocky, powerful pony types to be found among both the Australian and New Zealand regiments. But although these small animals, many of which possessed Welsh Pony blood, had many admirers, the lesson of the war was that, provided a horse had bone and substance, and was not too eager and fretful, the closer it was to the English thoroughbred racing strain the more valuable it was for active service.
The horses of a light horse regiment were not uniform. They included every type of animal, large sturdy ponies, crossbreds from draught Clydesdale mares, three-quarter thoroughbreds, and many qualified for the racing stud-books. As a consequence of such mixed breeding, they frequently offended the horse-lover’s eye by their faulty parts. But the one quality they all possessed which made them superior to the horses from other lands: they were all, or nearly all, got by thoroughbred sires. This quality, reflected throughout in their spirit and their stamina, was their distinguishing characteristic. During sustained operations, on very short rations of pure grain and no water over periods which extended up to seventy hours --- when horses of baser breeds lost their courage and then their strength - the waler, though famished and wasted, continued alert and brave and dependable. The vital spark of the thoroughbred never failed to respond. As long as these horses had strength to stand they carried their great twenty-stone loads jauntily and proudly.
Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine 1914 -1918. - M.S.Gullet

Generally speaking, the men of the Desert Column had a profound contempt of the Arab horses which they encountered, which were out-performed by their larger blood-brothers from overseas as regards general carrying and endurance. While the English thoroughbred and his close relative the Waler sprang largely from Arab progenitors, the war proved beyond doubt that Western methods of breeding and rearing had improved these horses beyond comparison with the original Arab stock.
The Australian Horse at War. - Douglas M. Barrie

The South African War had an enormous impact on Australian horse breeding and caused widespread revision of ideas of what a good remount should be. The success of the Boer ponies and the mediocre showing of the heavy chargers started a craze for small horses among certain remount breeders. The Victorian Government was impressed sufficiently to import Welsh Mountain stallions to breed remounts but others argued against pony sires.
Thoroughbreds, Trotters and event Suffolk Punch draughts were all touted as ideal stallions for cavalry horse breeding.
Some breeders argued for heavier, less hot-headed mounts and condemned Thoroughbreds for their temperaments, long legs and low knee actions. One breeder favoured crossing Suffolk Punch stallions with small blood mares inclined to be of the pony type. Future remounts, some predicted, would be small and heavy.
In 1907 E.Dinham Peren, published a pamphlet suggesting that cavalry horses should have Thoroughbred sires to guarantee uniformity. The animals were not to exceed 15.2 hh. With good girths, short backs and short, strong legs. Preferred colours were bay or brown with black points, or liver chestnut. The writer suggested that mares should be half or three-quarter blood. He saw no need or heavyweight chargers in Australia. The pamphlet advocated Thoroughbred sires for artillery remounts from Suffolk Punch or good quality cart mares but many breeders produced useful artillery horses from other crossings.
J.J. Gallagher, a cattleman from Krambach. N.S.W. bred a few remount as a sideline and crossed Suffolk Punch mares with a son of the famous old stockhorse, Saladin. The results were solid horses of uniform type and a neat appearance that never failed to attract military horse buyers.
It must be remembered that military horses did not need to be uniform in type - as long as they were sound most could be fitted into the system. Small animals were frequently bought be officers as polo ponies, medium sizes became cavalry horses, while heavy stock were used in artillery or transport.
There were several remount depots scattered about the country, but the main one was at Maribyrnong in Victoria. Superb horses, ranging from officers’ charges to heavy draught were bred there. Special horses were bred for each job and there was no attempt to breed one type for all purposes because needs were so varied.
War Horses, Army Issue or B.Y.O. Greg Mitchell

Units on mobilisation were issued with rather a variety of horses, it being quite evident that each buyer had his own opinion as to the class of animal most suitable for active service. There is a very old saying that "horses will gallop all shapes" and in a way this applies to horses on active service, when they have to undergo privations of all sorts and still carry a man and equipment as there are horses of all shapes and sized that have been right through everything and done their work all right through, in my opinion there is one class of horse (if it maybe called a class), that has stood out above the others as far as hard work and keeping condition is concerned and that is a low thick set animal, 14.3 to 15.2 in height, short backed, well ribbed up, and showing a bit of breeding, aged about 7 to 12 years.
The finer bred horses did their work well but when it came to hardships they couldn’t keep their condition like the above mentioned and were consequently more liable to sore backs. The big coarse horse held condition fairly well but wasn’t up to the fast work.
Memorandum by 3rd Light Horse Brigade Veterinary Officer. Major Stanley Allen Mountjoy - 8th Lighthorse Regiment.

No 125 government of India. Military Department, Fort William, the 5th August 1875
To The Hon’ble the Chief Secretary, Victoria, Melbourne.
Sir,- I am directed to acknowledge your letter No 949, dated 19th March,1875, soliciting certain information on the subject of the supply of remount for the army in India, and in reply to the inquiries therein made, to convey to you, for the information of His Excellency of the Governor, the following answers by the President, Special Stud Commission, which are accepted by the Government of India.
(a)?Whether it is proposed to purchase mares as well as geldings.
(b)?The regulation height for horses purchased, and the heights preferred.
(a)?Mares as well as geldings, with preference given to mares.
(b)?Not less than 14 hands and 3 inches, and up to 15 hands 3 inches in height - mean preferred.
West Australian Government Gazette. 21st September 1875

From a remount department point of view it has always been realized that the ideal arrangement for both peace and war supplies of riding horses, for remount units of the army would be as follows-
The provision of a universal stamp of rider, suitable for all units, namely be well bred, active and weight carrying horse of the heavy weight polo pony or small hunter type, of an average height just over 15hands.
Australian Archives ACT CRS A1194 Item GB 499/1/560

Army Horses for India.
Then, too, there are ponies, small horses 14.1: India could and would take many more of these than she has now for polo and racing purposes. The "Waler" pony is in my experience of Indian polo hard to buy, but he is there the best animal at the game.....There are a great many Australian and Argentine ponies in England, which are distinctly inferior animals to the "Waler" pony. Some of the best of these I have seen and ridden in India, being very little below the standard of those famous English and Irish ponies everyone has heard of as playing at the great English polo clubs, .....
Horses of the British Empire, (Colonial Horses)

No 594
Government of India.
Military Department,
Fort William, the 2nd March 1887

With reference to the advertisement of the 16th March 1886, it is hereby notified that the Government of India are prepared to purchase about 1,750 horses suitable for army purposes during the year 1887-88, classed as follows -

Class 1 - Walers 1,222
In Madras
Medium Cavalry and Hussars 105
Field Artillery 152 - 350
Horse Artillery 93

In Calcutta
Medium Cavalry and Hussars 322
Field Artillery 318 - 872
Horse Artillery 232

The Cavalry Trooper — The ideal cavalry horse should (if price has not to be considered) be of the heavy weight or thick-set of the hunter type. His chief requirements as regards confirmation are as follows:

1. That he should be up to the weight he has got to carry, which is usually about 18 stone. But he should on no account be too heavily topped for his legs, or for the work he should be called upon to do. His loins, therefore, should be strong, his shoulder blades long, and his legs should be as short as is compatible with the possesion of sufficient speed for military purposes.
2. His legs and feet should be particularly sound and well able to stand work. As he will be called upon at times to go fast and to leap, his back his back tendons should be more or less parallel with the cannon-bone, and he should have no tendency to undue width of fetlock.
3. His fore-hand should be light, so that his legs and feet may continue sound, and that he may be able to do his school work properly.
4. He should have a good carriage of the head and neck, so that he may be obedient to the rein.
5. He should be a "good doer," and have a strong constitution, which will usually be the case with a horse that has a bright eye; soft, cool skin; deep rounded barrel; full flank; firm, prominent anus; and is well ribbed up.
6. In times of peace, the height will usually vary from about 15.1 to 16 hands; but for war purposes, when endurance is of paramount importance, the height should not exceed 15.2 and may be as low as 14.1, especially if Arabs are employed.

The Officer's Charger — A cavalry officers first charger, with all the useful points of the cavalry trooper, should have undeniably good looks, and a showy carriage of the head and tail, which should not be docked. As he will have to carry less, and will cost considerably more than an animal in the ranks, he should be well bred, and, with a rider of ordinary weight, he should approach the type of a handsome thoroughbred hunter. A second charger should have all the useful points of a first charger; but need not be so good-looking. The colour will, as a rule, depend on regimental regulations. Speaking generally, he should not be less than 15.3 during peace time; because a man at the head of a regiment of cavalry, or of a battery of Horse or Field Artillery, looks best on a tall horse. On a campaign, the height should be the same as that advised for a cavalry trooper.

The Artillery Horse — Artillery horses are divided into those for Horse Artillery and those for Field batteries. As the teams of the former have to manoeuvre with cavalry, and also drag their guns, they require to be exceptionally strong, smart horses. The latter, as they are supposed not to go faster than a trot, are stronger and slower horses than those of the light cavalry. The wheelers are active, light-built cart-horses. For their work, they need to be somewhat thick in the shoulders, short on the leg, and of considerable weight to stop the gun when the order to halt is given. The hind-quarters, loins, and the hocks should, therefore, be particularly strong. The riding-horses of the Nos.I and markers of field batteries should be of the light cavalry type.

The Mounted Infantry Horse — should be of the same type as the cavalry charger, and should be about 14.2 high.

The Light Vanner — which we meet in vans, buses and tram-cars, should be of similar type to Field Artillery wheelers; in fact, active, light cart horses that can trot freely and at fair speed.

Points of the Horse - Capt. M. H. Hayes. 1897.

"A blue roan, the mount of the Farrier Quartermaster-Sergeant of the 7th. Light Horse Regiment, was brought along. This horse was a great deception. although as ugly as a milk-cart horse he had a beautiful level action and could gather into full stride at once."
The Australian Bloodhorse - The Australian Horse at War.

"In overseas military circles the word was out that the Australian bush horse was the best all round war horse in the world. We 'bushies' swore by our ugly-headed bush horses ....."
Australian Horses at War - Ion Idriess.

"Horses Wanted. Wanted to purchase immediately, a pair of dark Bay, Brown, or Black Geldings, of about 14 1/2 hands - also a Brown Gelding of 14 hands. They must be of good figure and temper, free from vice or blemish, and have long tails, being required for a gentleman in India. A liberal price will be given.
The Sydney Gazette, 30 November 1816.

"In essence, the Waler was an Australian horse abroad, working chiefly in the countries washed by the Indian Ocean, though also in the Middle East and Asia. Initially, it was a horse bred in New South Wales and imported to India for military, sporting or domestic purposes, and the term remained current there for nearly a century, applying soon to all Australian horses."
Walers, Australian Horses Abroad - Yarwood

"It would seem that 'Waler' in those early days referred more to place or origin than to the superior type of stock or cavalry horse we think of today. Thoroughbreds, light harness horses, riding ponies and draughts, all came under the 'Waler' heading. Besides the nickname however, they did have in common the inherent good qualities provided by an intelligent selection of good imported breeding stock from generations before, together with the peculiar beneficial factors of environment that Australia's breeding country uniquely implanted in them."
Walers and thier Export in Perspective - Don Tilmouth.

"The present war in South Africa has emphasised the necessity for a continuous supply of horses, both for cavalry remounts and for artillery and transport; and has also called attention to the nescessity for another class of horses - namely, one suitable for mounted infantry. Now the horse suitable for mounted infantry exists in large numbers at present in Queensland for size here is not desired, as, a mounted infantryman having to mount and dismount rapidly, a wiry, well-bred Galloway ranging from 14.2 to 15 hands is what is required."
Queensland Agricultural Journal, 1 July 1900. Horse Breeding for Military Remounts - Ernest A. Smith.

"One of the batteries of the Australian Mounted Division had only been able to water its horses 3 times in the last 9 days ...... had lost only 8 horses from exhaustion ..... the majority of the horses in the Corps were Walers, and there is no doubt that these hardy Australian horses make the finest cavalry mounts in the world."
The Desert Mounted Corps - Lt. Col.R.M.P. Preston.

"The 'nugget' was a 'big little' animal, a symmetrical typical English 3/4 bred hunter of 16 H. to 16.2 H. focused into a height of 13.3 or 13.3 hands with slightly lower withers. These horses have combined stamina, courage and speed."
Small Horses in Warfare - Sibley.

On the subject of the constitutional strength of "blood" horses, Mr A. B. Paterson, who is a well known horse expert, gives us valuable practical information in The Sydney Mail, of March 15, 1902. He tells us that the best lot of horses that left Australia for South Africa, during the late war, were police horses sent over by the Government, and 50 per cent. of them were fit to exhibit in any show ring in Australia. They were a magnificent lot of animals, and for one day’s gallop they would have distanced any other lot of horses at the front. They were the best lot of horses in Africa, but they did not last long. Their high-strung nerves and eager dispositions made them inclined to fret and refuse their food, and after a long march it was the usual thing to see many of our horses refusing to eat the poor feeds set before them. They were too high class to stand hardships and misery.
It is an article of faith with most horsey men that a well-bred horse will do anything that a commoner can do, but as a matter of fact, if a drover is going to go out on a trip involving a certain amount of starvation for his horses, he would not take well-bred horses in expectation that they would last the longest.
Points of the Horse - Hayes 1897

Cartoon 3"........they included every kind of animal, large sturdy ponies, crossbreds from draught Clydesdale mares, theree-quarter thoroughbreds and what was termed "gift horses" these had been donated by station properties and individuals to the army to help meet the demand fpr horses for overseas use.
Many of the larger stations and rural farms of Australia had good blood line mares and one or two stallions as well as good stock horse mares, from these they would breed their own stock for work and with picnic races and agricultural shows being the highlight of the year they would endeavour to produce horses that could hold their own on the country tracks or at the bush camp drafts. Many of these station blood horses got away with brumby mobs or were deliberately crossed with brumby mares or stallions in an effort to gain a strain of horse with the stamina and hardiness of the brumby and over generations what was to be dubbed the "waler" had really come from brumby foundations. A horse that could through instinct seek out water and forage for itself, such as in the outback wilderness of Australia brumby mobs would travel 10 or 15 miles a day to gain water then return to their own stomping grounds, they had the ability to strip bark and leaves from trees when grass was in short supply, and they were used to the harsh summer conditions of Australia’s environment.
Used for stock work these station bred horses could be ridden day after day mustering cattle and by night simply unsaddled and turned out to look after themselves....
Australian bred horses could travel faster and further than the coarse breeds favoured by England and they could far outpace the small ponies used by the Turkish cavalry. They ate and drank less and as the war progresssed they were forced to carry up to 17 stone of rider and equipment, sometimes for distances of 40-50 miles a day, often through sun scorched sand of the Sinai almost knee deep, often going without water for 60 hours.
The Light Horse, The Australian Horse in War. Time/Life

"One of the batteries of the Aust. Mounted Division had only been able to water it’s horses 3 times in the last 9 days....... had lost only 8 horses from exhaustion ........... the majority of the horses in the Corps were Walers, and there is no doubt that these hardy Australian horses make the finest cavalry mounts in the world".
The Desert Mounted Corps., Lt.Col. R.M.P. Preston.

"Great speed was not wanted, but endurance, easy action, a docile temper and a strong constitution".

"Yet we know that Indian polo players prefer Arabs to country breds, and Australian ponies to either".

Mr. Alexander Bruce, Chief Inspector of Stock, says - ' New South Wales had the best saddle horse in the world, and it supplied India with cavalry and artillery horses which, in the opinion of practical Indian officers, cannot be improved upon". Mr. Bruce goes on: "These horses (ie. the the Walers) were highly appreciated by every military man who served in India for their speed, pluck and endurance'.

'So that in the period between say, Waterloo and the Crimea. ...Australia possessed he best saddle horses in the world'.Cartoon 3

'The size of horses in a wild state living in herds has a tendency to degenerate in size, but becoming more hardy as the weaklings are illiminated by the necessities of life'.

'...early ninteenth century Australian horse:- 'They were stylish, stout, well shaped, rather short-logged useful horses, with good clear bone, sound legs and feet".

' they concealed their excellences under a plain exterior'.

' It was no uncommon thing for horses fed on nothing but the natural grasses of the country to carry an ordinary sized man eighty, and in some cases even a hundred miles, in the twenty four hours'.

' The Australian horse is small, on the average, as compared to the English horse - he is light boned, but the bone is of good quality; he has, as a rule, well laid shoulders, and a light forehand".

'Officers who used to ride Arabs as chargers or hunters now use ''Walers'".....' I remember him well, a brown horse with a fiddle head, a calm eye, good shoulders, a goose rump and the very best of legs'.

Horses of the British Empire (Colonial Horses)

"the durability or permanence of a breed is dependent only on certain conditions of life TO which it is adapted. There is no such thing as absolute permanence of any form of breed." from "A History of Horse Breeding" by Daphne Machin Goodall.

Mr. Bloomfield, Loves Creek Station, Northern Territory, who in his youth was actively involved in Waler breeding for the local and Indian market. ".... field artillery wheel... nuggety type of horse about 15.2, not a heavy horse,an active horse, ....field artillery lead....15.3 to 16H., then the remount - a fairly strong horse with plenty of bone about 9 or 10 inches. And of the officer's horse ....more like the breedy Thoroughbred types . The Indian buyers had a sideline here of polo ponies, light weedy Thoroughbred type for the polo player, 14.2 to 15H."

Mr. Biggs of South Australia, who was in Waler breeding and 'breaking' on stations which bred horses for such well known and respected buyers as Lowe, Robb and Kidman. "Breeders culled for a fine wiry type.... so in hindsight it is the very harsh climate of the Australian bush that produced the horse. Contrary to popular belief, man really had little to do with producing these fine horses, the exception was culling the misfits and gelding unsuitable colts. A type of general purpose horse indigenous to the Australian outback, often bred in a semi-wild state with minimal supervision."

Mr. Hallihan of Victoria who 'broke in' horses for the Army some 60 years ago. "Its hard to describe him (the Waler) because he has the attributes of a lot of horses, a light delivery type of horse. The dry country is basically for the Waler type of horse.. ..most of these are pretty good types." On the subject of breeding,"....it was managed according to the way the horses bred. If they bred a bit heavy for the job they wanted, they put in a lighter horse, or if they were too big they put a pony and turned them loose and they sorted themselves out.... under theharsh conditions they were mainly reared in. It was all free range breeding. My son worked a season on Alexandria Station (N.T.) last- year and there were a few there but not many left."

Mr Clements of North Queensland who bought and shipped horses to India also about 60 years ago. He accompanied these horses aboard the 'Janus'. "We used to have the quiet horses come from Victoria, they used to be broken in.. ..pull buggies, ..they were practically Walers, they weren't light you know, between a stock horse and an ordinary stallion.... bred from an ordinary mare to a good sort of horse....he wouldn't be a blood stallion but he'd be a good class one, but the mare'd be just of what we'd call a quarter draught."

The above people and documentary evidence confirm that Suffolk Punch, Timor Pony, Percheron, Clydesdale, Welsh Pony and Thoroughbred were some of the breeds recorded as being imported to stations producing Walers.


Last Update: Monday, August 16, 2004 3:19 PM

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