Brumby Horse Feral Horse

Brumbies galloping

Photo: Brumbies galloping

A Brumby is a wild horse found in Australia that descended from domesticated horses. It is also called a Feral Horse or Bush Horse. There are more than 400,000 free-roaming brumbies in Australia,  making them the most numerous wild equine species in the world. A wild horse is usually referred to as a Mustang in North America.

The Australian brumby looks pretty much like a common-everyday horse that has adapted to the Australian Outback's hot, arid conditions. With ancestors that include ponies, work horses, Clydesdales and Arabian horses, it can be of any size or colour. Brumbies are smaller, leaner and more muscular than most domestic horses, giving them the advantage of needing less food and water to survive. They are also sure-footed and resilient, making them well-suited for living in the rugged Outback landscape.

The brumby is anatomically the same as any other horse. Therefore, it has the same scientific name as all other horses– Equus caballus.

• How Did the Brumby Get its Name?

Brumby Description What Does a Brumby Look Like?

brumby galloping in the Australian Outback

Photo: Brumby galloping in Australian Outback

The brumby is a herbivorous placental mammal characterised by a strong, muscular body and long slender legs with one-toed, oval-shaped hooves and a long tail. It has a long thick neck and large elongated head with teeth specialized for grazing. An adult brumby stands between 1.3 to 1.6 meters tall and weighs an average of 600 to 900 kilograms. Its coat may be short-haired and come in various colours such as white, black, red, brown, and yellow. It may also have varied patterns like pinto spots or splotches. Brumbies have excellent eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell. Male and female brumbies are similar in appearance and size.

Brumbies are crepuscular–being most active during the morning and evening and resting during the hottest parts of the day. A brumby's life expectancy is 20-30 years.

Brumby Behaviour How Do Brumbies Behave?

Photo: Brumbies in the Australian Outback

Brumbies, like all horses, are social mammals. They form herds with a social hierarchy. Typically, these herds are composed of 5 to 11 mares, 1 to 4 stallions, and their offspring. At the top of the hierarchy is an alpha male, followed by other males, females with young, non-reproductive females, and juveniles. Alpha males are usually at the rear of the herd, but in the presence of a threat, they will move to the front to manage the situation. This may range from fleeing to standing its ground and fighting off the danger by kicking and biting its opponent.

The brumbies communicate through bodily stances, vocalisation and facial gestures. During the breeding season, males challenge each other with grunts and screams and by stomping and pawing at the ground aggressively. They also neigh to females. Females squeal and kick if they are not interested in the male’s advances. Grunting, biting, shoving and kicking between herd members is used to establish and reinforce dominance in the herd hierarchy.

Brumbies also use several facial expressions, such as raising the upper lip to expose the upper teeth in a horse smile. They also bob their heads and point their ears forward in other gestures of positive communication. Aggressive facial gestures include the ears being laid back with nostrils closed while exposing their teeth.

Brumby Habitat Where Do Brumbies Live?

Photo: Brumby habitat map in red

Brumbies live in tropical grasslands, wetlands, swamps, marshes, semi-arid deserts, rocky ranges, temperate ranges, sub-alpine forests, and some small offshore islands of Australia. Brumbies prefer grass and shrub lands with plenty of water and pasture.

The home range of a brumby herd may vary between 1 to 20 square kilometres depending on the available food and water and herd size. Herds move from place to place depending on the weather and the availability of food. They can travel up to 50 km a day in search of food and water.

Brumby Diet What do Brumbies Eat?

Photo: Brumby grazing

Brumbies feed on grasses and various plants, including leaves, stems, bark, seeds, grains and nuts. They have a single small stomach which limits their ability to store food. For this reason, to get enough food, they must feed for 15 to 17 hours each day. Brumbies often eat soil and visit mineral and salt licks to supplement their diets with essential nutrients, including salt, potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium.

Being crepuscular animals, they graze during the morning or evening to avoid high midday temperatures. They frequently visit water sources at night.

Brumby Reproduction & Life Cycle Brumby Babies

Photo: Brumby mother and foal

Brumbies breed once a year in the spring. Males herd females, not related to them and not in the herd they grew up in, to form a harem. They mate with as many of these females as possible and guard these females against other males who may attempt to mate with them. Once the mating season is finished, the male shows no further interest in females or his offspring.

After a gestation period of approximately 335 days, a pregnant female typically gives birth to one offspring. Rarely she may give birth to twins. Births occur at night and in a quiet location. Brumby foals are about 25-30 kg at birth. Newborn horses have curly hairs, and a finer mane than adults. They are born well-developed and can stand within an hour, and walk within four to five hours. Foals can eat solid food within a week of being born and by their second month they start to forage on their own. They stay close to their mothers until fully weaned at about two years. A female brumby reaches sexual maturity at 4-5 years and a male in 5-6 years.

Brumby Predators & Threats What Kills Brumbies

Brumbies do not have any significant native predators. Occasionally, elderly, ill, or young animals may fall prey to crocodiles or dingoes. It is estimated that as much as 20% of the feral horse population dies each year from drought, poisonous plants and parasites. Regular culling by humans also keeps their numbers in check.

Brumby Impact on the Australian Environment What Damage do Brumbies Cause?

Photo: Brumby in wetlands

The impact of feral horses on native Australian flora and fauna is indeed real. However, the true magnitude of the problem hasn't been determined, and much exaggeration and misinformation prevail.

It should be noted that the unique Australian environment and its flora evolved without the existence of any hoofed animals (all native Australian animals have soft feet). As a consequence, the Australian ecosystem is not accustomed to the harsh trampling and soil compacting caused by hoofed animals and suffer significant damage from these hoofed animals.

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 an Australian environmental perspective, every one of these ungulated animals also has a significant impact on the Australian environment. Because the horse is no longer an economically beneficial animal, it is overly vilified.

The detrimental impacts of the feral horse are as follows.

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).

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

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

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.

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.

Brumby Conservation Status Is the Brumby Endangered?

The brumby is an introduced animal that has gone feral. By some estimates, its population can increase by as much as 23% a year if left unchecked. It is considered an invasive species and detrimental to the Australian ecosystem. As a consequence, it not protected by any state or federal laws. Extensive culling programs are undertaken to reduce their numbers.

How Did the Brumby Get to Australia How & Why Horses Arrived in Australia

Photo: Working horse

Horses arrived in Australia with the first European settlers on the First Fleet in 1788. Many more horses were imported from that time onwards. These animals were used in farming, transportation and horse racing. In these early days, 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 sure if this animal escaped or was abandoned by its owner and left to fend for itself. Over the years, many more animals escaped into the wild. Also, as horses were replaced by mechanisation, many of these animals were intentionally released into the wild by their owners. The descendants of these animals are the brumbies of today.

How the Brumby Got its Name? Why is a Horse Called a Brumby?

The most plausible reason wild Australian horses are called brumbies is that an early settler named James Brumby allowed his horses to graze unrestrained on his property at Mulgrave Place in New South Wales. Locals referred to these free-roaming horses as "Brumby's horses". Subsequently, he abandoned these horses when he moved to the island of Tasmania in 1804. The first recorded case of a wild horse was also in 1804. These were probably Brumbies.

25 Brumby Facts

  1. Brumbies are wild horses of Australia.
  2. They are also called feral horses and wild bush horses.
  3. They are the descendants of domestic horses that escaped and became wild.
  4. Brumbies range in height from 1.3m to 1.6m, weigh 600-900kg and look like normal horses.
  5. But they are smaller, hardy, sure-footed, leaner and more muscular.
  6. There are 400,000 feral horses in Australia today.
  7. This is the largest number of wild horses in the world.
  8. Horses, the ancestors of the brumby, arrived with European settlers in 1788.
  9. There were no horses of any sort in Australia before this date.
  10. The first recorded case of a wild horse was in 1804.
  11. Brumbies live in small pockets throughout Australia.
  12. These include grasslands, wetlands, swamps, marshes, semi-arid deserts, and rocky ranges.
  13. They frequently sleep while standing up. In fact, they rarely lie down for more than an hour or so.
  14. Banjo Paterson's classic poem The Man from Snowy River refers to brumbies as wild bush horses".
  15. Brumbies live in herds of around 20 individuals.
  16. A group of brumbies is called a 'mob' or 'band'.
  17. Brumbies preferred diet is grass.
  18. They will also eat leaves, wood, bark, stems, seeds, grains, and nuts.
  19. Brumbies feed for 15-17 hours each day.
  20. Brumbies breed once a year in the spring.
  21. Brumbies don't have native predators.
  22. The full environmental impact of brumbies is not known.
  23. Some impacts are trampling native vegetation, overgrazing and soil compaction.
  24. A brumby lives for 20-30 years.
  25. Wild horses in America are called mustangs.