Australian Feral Horse (Brumby)What is a Feral Horse?

Feral horses, also referred to as 'brumbies', are wild horses that evolved from ordinary domesticated horses that escaped from their human environment and reverted to being wild animals. They look pretty much like common everyday horses. The key difference is that they are wild.

There were no horses, or any hoofed animals whatsoever, in Australia prior to European settlement in 1788.


How the Horse Arrived in Australia How Did the Horse Come to Australia?

Horses arrived in Australia with the first European settlers on the First Fleet in 1788. Many additional horses were imported from that time on. Predominately used in farming, transportation and for horse racing, these animals were usually grazed in unfenced properties, and many subsequently escaped. The first recorded case of a wild horse was in 1804. We are not certain if this animal escaped or was abandoned by its owner. As horses were replaced by mechanisation many horses were intentionally released into the 'wild' and had to fend for themselves.


Description of the Feral Horse What Does a Feral Horse Look Like?

Feral horses look pretty much like the common every day domesticated horses. Having descended from animals that had survived the treacherous journey by sea from England, Europe, and Asia, where only the strongest horses survived, brumbies are particularly hardy and have adapted well to the harsh Australian Outback. Being free roaming, feral horses are usually leaner and more muscular than domesticated horses. It is estimated that there are about 400,000 feral horses in Australia today.

The horse is a herbivorous, ungulate placental mammal. That is; it eats only vegetation, has hooves, carries its young inside its body and feed its babies milk. A horse can live f0r 20-30 years.


Feral Horse Diet What do Feral Horses Eat?

Horses are herbivores whose food of choice is grass. They also eat fobes (flowering, herbaceous broad-leaf plants) and browse on tree branches and shrubs. Horses have a single small stomach, unlike cows which have four that are much larger. For this reason to get enough food a horse must feed for 15 to 17 hours each day. Horses often eat soil and visit mineral and salt licks to supplement their diets with essential nutrients, including salt, potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium, which are present in the soil but lacking in their diets.


Feral Horse Habitat Where Do Feral Horses Live?

Feral horses have adapted well to the Australian environment. They are found in various habitats such as tropical grasslands, wetlands, semiarid plains, rocky ranges, temperate ranges, sub-alpine forests and some small offshore islands. They prefer grassland and shrub-land with plentiful water and pasture. They can travel up to 50 km a day in search of food and water.


Feral Horse Impact on the Australian Environment What Damage do Feral Horses Cause?

The impact of feral horses on native Australian flora and fauna is indeed real. However the true magnitude of the problem hasn't been clearly determined and much exaggeration and misinformation prevails. The environmental impacts attributed to the feral horse are just as applicable and relevant to other ungulates (hoofed animals) such as sheep and cattle raised on a massive scale by pastoralists and farmers. From and Australian environmental perspective everyone is these animals too have significant impacts the Australian environment. Because the horse in no longer an economically beneficial animal it is overly vilified.
Ungulates such as horses are hoofed animals, while all Australian native animals are essentially soft-footed. Australian native vegetation, having evolved without being trampled by hard hooves, suffer significant damage from hoofed animals.

The detrimental impacts of the feral horse are as follows.

Damaging Waterways

Horses trample and overgraze near streams and water catchments increasing run-off and reducing water quality. This can lead to downstream siltation and water ponding. Trampling in waterways also kill underwater vegetation and increase stream depth and stream pugging (compacting the soil).

Soil Degradation

The hard hooves of feral horses increases soil compaction, soil erosion and soil loss. This in turn reduces water infiltration and soil productivity.

Altering Vegetation

By consuming and trampling native vegetation feral horses may impact local plant species diversity thereby altering the local vegetation.

Spreading Weeds

In Australia, 156 species of non-native plants can germinate in horse dung, including 16 noxious weeds. Furthermore trampling and killing native vegetation facilitates weed invasion.

Effect on Native Fauna

By altering and impacting on the local fauna, feral horses indirectly impact the viability of native Australia animals which rely on specific plant species for survival.

Related: Introduced Animals of Australia


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