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Horse Breeds
First Posted: July 25, 2009
Sep 29, 2010

Waler or New South Walers Horse Breed

Waler Horse

Country of Origin: Australia
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The Waler is an Australian breed of riding horses that developed from the horses that were brought to the Australian colonies in the 1800s. The name comes from their early breeding origins in New South Wales, they were originally known as New South Walers.

Origins and Characteristics

The Waler combined a variety of breeds; notably the Cape horse (from the Cape of Good Hope), English breeds, particularly the Thoroughbred, Arab), Timor Pony and perhaps a little Clydesdale or Percheron. It was originally considered only a "type" of horse and not a distinct breed. However, as a landrace bred under the extreme climate and challenging working conditions of Australia, the Waler developed into a hardy horse with great endurance even when under extreme stress from lack of food and water. It was used as a stockman's horse and prized as a military remount. Walers were also used by exploration expeditions that traversed inland Australia.

The preferred Walers for cavalry duties were 15 to 16 hands high (60 to 64 inches (152 to 163 cm). Those over 16 hands were rejected for use in the South Australian Bushmen Corps. Unbroken horses, as well as those with grey and broken (spotted) coat colors were also rejected. The selected horses had to be of a good type that could carry sixteen or seventeen stone (101 to 108 kilograms (223 to 238 lb.)) day after day. Heavier animals were selected and used for draught and pack horse duties. The gaits of the Waler were considered ideal for a cavalry mount; it could maintain a fast walk and could progress directly to a steady, level canter without resorting to a trot which was noisy, liable to dislodge gear and resulted in soreness in the horse's back.

Most of the early Walers carried a fair percentage of Thoroughbred blood with some recorded as race winners and a few being registered in the Australian Stud Book. While in warfare service in North Africa, some Walers proved successful in races against local Egyptian horses and assorted Thoroughbreds. In 1919 horses from the Anzac Mounted Division won 5 of the 6 events at Heliopolis, near Cairo.


In Australia's two wars of the early 20th century-the Second Boer War and World War I-the Waler was the backbone of the light horse mounted forces. It was especially suited to working in the harsh climate of the Sinai Peninsula and Palestine where it proved superior to the camel as a means of transporting large bodies of troops.

During the Boer War 16,314 horses were dispatched overseas for use by the Australian Infantry Forces. In the First World War, 121,324 Walers were sent overseas to the allied armies in Africa, Europe, India and Palestine. Of these, 39,348 served with the First Australian Imperial Force, mainly in the Middle East, while 81,976 were sent to India. Due to quarantine restrictions, only one Waler is known to have been returned to Australia; "Sandy," the mount of Major-General W.T. Bridges, an officer who died at Gallipoli in May, 1915. The English cavalry officer, Lt Col RMP Preston DSO, summed up the Australian Light Horses' performance in his book, The Desert Mounted Corps:

"(November 16th, 1917) The operations had now continued for 17 days practically without cessation, and a rest was absolutely necessary especially for the horses. Cavalry Division had covered nearly 170 miles...and their horses had been watered on an average of once in every 36 hours.... The heat, too, had been intense and the short rations, 9-1/2 lb. of grain per day without bulk food, had weakened them greatly. Indeed, the hardship endured by some horses was almost incredible. One of the batteries of the Australian Mounted Division had only been able to water its horses three times in the last nine days - the actual intervals being 68, 72 and 76 hours respectively. Yet this battery on its arrival had lost only eight horses from exhaustion, not counting those killed in action or evacuated wounded.

The majority of horses in the Corps were Walers and there is no doubt that these hardy Australian horses make the finest cavalry mounts in the world.... They (the Australians) have got types of compact, well-built, saddle and harness horses that no other part of the world can show. Rather on the light side according to our ideas, but hard as nails and with beautiful clean legs and feet. Their records in this war place them far above the Cavalry horse of any other nation. The Australians themselves can never understand our partiality for the half-bred weight-carrying hunter, which looks to them like a cart horse. Their contention has always been that good blood will carry more weight than big bone, and the experience of this war has converted the writer, for one, entirely to their point of view. It must be remembered that the Australian countrymen are bigger, heavier men than their English brothers. They formed just half the Corps and it probable that they averaged not far off 12 stone each stripped. To this weight must be added another 9-1/2 stone for saddle, ammunition, sword, rifle, clothes and accoutrements, so that each horse carried a weight of 21 stone, all day for every day for 17 days, - on less than half the normal ration of forage and with only one drink in every 36 hours!

The weight-carrying English Hunter had to be nursed back to fitness after these operations and for a long period, while the little Australian horses without any special care, other than good food and plenty of water were soon fit to go through another campaign as arduous as the last one!..."

One well known Waler was Major M. Shanahan's mount 'Bill the Bastard' who bucked when asked to gallop. Yet, during World War I, when the Major found four Australians outflanked by the Turks, 'Bill the Bastard' carried all five men - three on his back and one on each stirrup - three quarters of a mile 0.75 miles (1.21 km) through soft sand at a lumbering gallop - without first bucking.

At the end of the war, 11,000 surplus horses in the Middle East were sold to the British Army as remounts for Egypt and India. Some horses that were categorized as being unfit were destroyed. Also, some light horsemen chose to destroy their horses rather than part with them, but this was an exception, despite the popular myth that portrays it as the ultimate fate of all the horses. Still, parting with their Walers was one of the hardest events the light horsemen had to endure. A poem by "Trooper Bluegum" sums up the men's sentiment:

I don't think I could stand the thought of my old fancy hack
Just crawling round old Cairo with a 'Gyppo on his back.
Perhaps some English tourist out in Palestine may find
My broken-hearted Waler with a wooden plough behind.

No: I think I'd better shoot him and tell a little lie:--
"He floundered in a wombat hole and then lay down to die."
May be I'll get court-martialed; but I'm damned if I'm inclined
To go back to Australia and leave my horse behind.

From Australia in Palestine, 1919

As demand for remounts declined in the 1940s, the Waler trade ended and in a few decades the breed had almost completely disappeared. While some Waler horses made the Australian Stock Horse register in the early days of its establishment, many other breeds, notably Arabians, Quarter horses, and Thoroughbreds were directly added to the registry or crossed on Waler stock. A number of Stock Horses thus are descended from Walers, but in genetic terms the blood percentages are tiny.

In the 1980s efforts commenced to reestablish the breed using feral Walers descended from horses that had been set loose in the outback when the commercial trade ceased. The Waler horse now has two breed associations interested in preserving it, the Waler Horse Owners and Breeders Association Australia Inc. (WHOBAA) and the Waler Horse Society of Australia Inc (WHSA).

A memorial statue to the Waler Light Horse was erected at Tamworth, New South Wales as a tribute to the men of the ANZAC Corps who served in Boer, Sudan and First World Wars. This memorial was constructed at a cost of $150,000, funded by grants from Federal and State Governments, Tamworth Regional Council, Joblink Plus and donations from business houses, property owners, RSL Members and the community and was designed and created by sculptor Tanya Bartlett from Newcastle, New South Wales. The military equipment is identical to that used in the First World War. Forty-seven light horse re-enactment riders and the 12th/16th Hunter River lancers took part in the unveiling by Major General William B. "Digger" James AC MBE MC (Retd) on October 29, 2005.

For More Information:

Waler Horse Society of Australia An Excellent site
Walers Horse Owner and Breeder's Association of Australia, Inc.
Rare Breeds Trust of Australia

Horse Breeds