AskDefine | Define brumby

User Contributed Dictionary



Unknown; perhaps from James Brumby, early Australian farrier.


  • /'brʌmbi/


  1. A wild or feral horse.
    • 1988: Harry Farquharson said there were two or three springs and that the horses were “bloody wild”. He said there were probably about 300 and they were good horses, a long way above the average brumby. — Tom Cole, Hell West and Crooked

Extensive Definition

A brumby is a free-roaming feral horse in Australia. Although they are found in many areas around the country, the most well-known brumbies are found in the Australian Alps region in south-eastern Australia. Today, the majority of them live in the Northern Territory, with the second largest population in Queensland. There are more horses in the wild in Australia than any other country, outnumbering even the American Mustang. A herd of brumbies is known as a "mob" or a "band."
Brumbies are the descendants of escaped or lost horses, dating back, in some cases, to those belonging to the nation's early European settlers. These horses included the "Capers" that arrived from South Africa, Timor Ponies from Indonesia, British pony breeds, various British draft horse breeds and a significant number of Thoroughbreds and Arabians. Today they live in many places, including some National Parks. Occasionally they are mustered and domesticated for use as working stock horses on farms or stations, but also as trail horses, show horses, Pony Club mounts and pleasure horses. These horses are the subject of some controversy, sometimes regarded as a pest and threat to native ecosystems, but valued by others as part of Australia's heritage, with supporters who work to prevent inhumane treatment or extermination. Several voluntary organisations also work to rehome captured Brumbies.


Origin of the term

The common usage of the word brumby to represent wild horses in Australia may have come about from one or more of the following possibilities:
  1. Horses left behind by Sergeant James Brumby from his property at Mulgrave Place in New South Wales, when he left for Tasmania in 1804.
  2. An Aboriginal word "baroomby" meaning wild in the language of the Pitjara people on the Warrego and Nogoa Rivers in southern Queensland.
  3. Banjo Paterson said in the introduction for his poem Brumby's Run published in the Bulletin in 1894 that Brumby was the word for free-roaming horses.
  4. A letter in 1896 to the Sydney Morning Herald also says that baroombie is the word for horse among the Aboriginal people of the Balonne, Nebine, Warrego and Bulloo rivers.
  5. Baramba, which was the name of a creek and station in the Queensland district of Burnett, established in the 1840s and later abandoned, leaving many of the horses to escape into the wild.
  6. It has also been suggested that the name derives from the Irish word bromach or bromaigh.
The first recorded use of the term in print is in the Australasian magazine from Melbourne in 1880, which said that brumbies were the bush name in Queensland for 'wild' horses. In 1885 the Once a Month magazine suggested that brumbies was a New South Wales term.
The term "brumby" also appears in American regional English, but it appears to have an entirely different meaning. It is used to describe persons whose behavior is inexplicable or whose attitudes lie far outside the mainstream. It is believed to have arisen in the southeastern part of the United States, primarily in Georgia and Tennessee, and is not in widespread use.

Early horse imports

Horses first arrived in Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet of Irish and British settlers. They were brought to be utility and working farm horses; recreational riding and racing were not major activities. By 1800, it is estimated that only about 200 horses had made it to Australia. Horse racing began to gain popularity around 1810, causing an influx of Thoroughbred imports, mostly from England. By 1820, roughly 3500 horses were living in Australia, and by 1850 this number had grown to 160,000, largely due to natural increase. Due to the long journey by sea from England, Europe, and Asia, only the strongest horses survived the trip to Australia, making for a particularly healthy and strong Australian stock, which aided in their ability to flourish.

Origin of feral herds

It is thought that horses were confined primarily to the Sydney region until the early 1800s when settlers first crossed the Blue Mountains and opened expansion inland. Horses were required for travel, and for cattle and sheep droving as the pastoral industry grew. The first report of an escaped horse is in 1804, and by the 1840s wild horses spanned the continent, from Sydney to Western Australia. but it is believed that most Australian horses became feral because they were released into the wild and left to fend for themselves. This may have been the result of pastoralists abandoning their settlements, and thus their horses, due to the arid conditions and unfamiliar land that combined to make farming in Australia especially difficult. After World War I, the demand for horses by defence forces declined with the growth in mechanization, which led to a growth in the number of unwanted animals that were often set free. Throughout the twentieth century, the replacement of horses with machines in farming led to further decreases in the need for horses, and therefore may have also contributed to increases in feral populations.
Currently, Australia has the largest feral horse population in the world, with at least 400,000 individuals estimated to be roaming the continent. It is also estimated that, during periods of non-drought, the feral horse population increases at a rate of 20% per year. Despite being so populous, feral horses are generally considered to be only a moderate pest.

Brumbies as a Resource

It is possible to train captured Brumbies to be used as stock horses and other saddle horses. Encouraging viewing of feral Brumby herds may also have potential as a tourist attraction. Brumbies are sometimes sold into the European horse meat market after their capture, and contribute millions of dollars to the Australian economy. Approximately 30% of horses for meat export originates from the feral population. The hides and hair of these horses are also used and sold. Today, negative environmental impacts may include soil loss, compaction, and erosion; trampling of vegetation; reduction in the vastness of plants; increased tree deaths by chewing on bark; damage to bog habitats and waterholes; spreading of invasive weeds; and various detrimental effects on population of native species.
There is a concern that the hooves of free-roaming horses compact the soil, and when the soil is compacted, air spaces are minimized, leaving nowhere for water to collect. When this occurs, soil in areas where horses are prevalent has a water penetration resistance over 15 times higher than that in areas without horses. Trampling also causes soil erosion and damages vegetation, and because the soil cannot hold water, plant regrowth is hindered. Horse excrement tends to foul these waterways, as does the accumulation of carcasses that result when feral horses perish, adding to the negative environmental impact of this exotic species in Australia. Exposure of soil caused by trampling and vegetation removal via grazing, combined with increased nutrients being recycled by horse dung, favour weed species, which then invade the region and overtake native species, diminishing their diversity. The effect on plants and plant habitats are more pronounced during droughts, when horses travel greater distances to find food and water. They consume the already threatened and limited vegetation, and their negative influences are more widespread. Feral horse grazing is also linked to a decline in reptiles and amphibians due to habitat loss. In addition, the grazing and trampling near waterways influences aquatic fauna. In areas frequented by horses, crab densities are higher, increasing the propensity for predation on fish. As a result, fish densities decline as the removal of vegetation renders them more susceptible to predation.
In areas where horses are abundant, macropod populations are less prevalent. This is most likely due to the horses’ consumption of vegetation upon which the macropods normally feed.
Feral horses are of concern to the farming industry, as they are alleged to feed on pasture grasses meant for cattle and destroy fences. They also have the potential to pass exotic diseases, such as equine influenza and African horse sickness, as well as tick fever, to domestic horses and cattle. This can lead to high fatalities among domestic populations, causing many farmers to call for the management of feral horses. as many advocate for the protection of Brumbies, including the Aboriginal people, who believe feral horses belong to the country. Many horse lovers and animal rights advocates oppose culling techniques and attempt to organise relocation of the animals instead. However, it has been argued that relocation, which often involves hours of helicopter mustering, would be more traumatic for the horses. Animal welfare groups aim to protect animals, including feral horses, from cruelty and exploitation, as well as from “unnecessary stress” caused by control efforts.
Meanwhile, conservationist groups, such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, condone humane culling as a means of control because of the damage Brumby overpopulation can cause to native flora and fauna, but are also generally opposed to various means of extermination. This makes management a challenge for policymakers, though at present, the cost of allowing overpopulation of feral horses seems to outweigh other concerns.

Population control methods

Options for population control include fertility control, ground and helicopter shooting, and mustering and trapping. None of the methods provide complete freedom from suffering for the horses, and the cost of each is very high. The costs include those that are economic, such as research, equipment purchases, and labour expenditures, as well as moral concerns over the welfare of the horses. As a result, more effective and efficient means of control are necessary. It involves injecting horses with hormones which render them infertile. While it appears as though these treatments are effective in the breeding season immediately following injection, the lasting effects are debated. Because it is costly and difficult to treat animals repeatedly, this method, despite being ideal, is not widely implemented. Helicopter shootings allow for aerial reconnaissance of a large area to target the densest populations, and shooters may get close enough to the target animals to ensure termination.
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service commenced a plan in 2007 to reduce brumby numbers by passive trapping in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. Over 50 brumbies captured in the Apsley River Gorge have now been re-homed. In 2008 aerial culling of brumbies, by shooting, recommenced in Carnarvon Gorge in Carnarvon National Park, Queensland.

In literature and media

Brumbies, called "wild bush horses," are mentioned in Banjo Paterson's iconic poem The Man from Snowy River. This poem was expanded into the films The Man from Snowy River and The Man from Snowy River II — (US title: "Return to Snowy River" — UK title: "The Untamed") — also The Man from Snowy River (TV series) and The Man from Snowy River: Arena Spectacular.
The popular Silver Brumby books by Elyne Mitchell were written for children and young adults. The stories describe the adventures of Thowra, a brumby stallion. These stories were dramatised and made into a movie of the same name (also known as The Silver Stallion: King of the Wild Brumbies), starring Russell Crowe and Caroline Goodall.
The brumby was adopted as an emblem in 1996 by then newly-formed Brumbies, a Super 14 rugby union team based in Canberra, Australia.
brumby in Czech: Brumby
brumby in German: Brumby (Pferd)
brumby in French: Brumby
brumby in Hungarian: Brumby-ló
brumby in Polish: Brumby
brumby in Swedish: Brumby
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