Meet the Australian horse with many changing faces

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From early European settlement to the military and from mustering cattle on the land to taking centre stage at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, the Australian stock horse has had many changing faces.

Nowadays, the breed is used right across the nation from stock work in the bush and in campdraft arenas to a range of different disciplines.

The Australian Stock Horse Society [ASHS] believes the role of the horse in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics was when the true versatility of the breed was finally broadcast to a bigger audience.

The stock horse took centre stage and billions of people learnt about the breed.

Flash forward to 2019 and industry experts say the stock horse now extends its reach throughout rural and regional Australia.

By December 2018, more than 196,000 stock horses had been registered since the ASHS began in Scone in 1971.

Versatility is attribute

Landmark equine sales team member Hannah Murray said the breed continued to break new ground.

“Some of these stock horses are really breaking into disciplines that potentially weren’t natured towards the stock horse in the past,” Ms Murray said.

Ms Murray said the versatility of the horse had seen the breed broaden its reach beyond the bush.

Landmark Equine’s Hannah Murray says the Australian stock horse is spreading its reach across urban areas.

“[It] is really broadening that audience to potentially someone that’s not off a beef property and doesn’t use that horse for cattle work,” she said.

“We’re seeing a lot more new interest from people of more urban areas and that’s across the board for all those performance horses I think.”

Breed for every need

According to ASHS, the origins of the stock horse were first introduced to Australia during European settlement but the animal was not then known as the stock horse.

With a mix of origins including thoroughbred and Spanish bloodlines, along with Arabian, Timor and Welsh Mountain imports, the stock horse eventually developed.

The breed was originally bred to be a sturdy, tough horse that could traverse the harsh outback of Australia

It was also used as a military mount.

The Australian stock horse is considered a national icon.

The ASHS says those attributes have expanded to include speed, athletic ability, intelligence and a quiet temperament.

Today the horse competes across a variety of disciplines including dressage, show jumping, eventing and polocrosse.

Craig Young, the Tamworth-based director of the ASHS said the greatest virtue of the horse was its versatility.

“The selection criteria that breeders have put into their horses has been absolutely outstanding for temperament, for type,” Mr Young said.

Victorian stock horse trainer Matthew Holz says the breed has come a long way.

Matthew Holz from Gippsland in Victoria said the stock horse breed had evolved immensely in recent times.

“From years ago, they tended to be horses that needed to got to work and they needed that day in, day out work to get them to a good level,” he said.

“Nowadays it is much easier for people to find a horse that doesn’t need that work, so you can get a horse that can perhaps be trained rather than ride to work.

“It is much easier for people that don’t have that time, or couple of thousand acres, to get that sweaty saddlecloth and make that horse.”

The stock horses are still used for work in rural Australia.

Appeals to the next generation

April Docherty of Scone said her first equine mate was not a stock horse but now it was the only breed she would compete on.

Recently at the ASHS National Show in Tamworth, the 25-year-old rode a four-year-old horse that she had “thrown in the deep end”.

Ms Docherty and the young horse have been competing in dressage classes along with led classes, hack classes and stock work.

April Docherty is excited about her future in the stock horse industry.

“I actually started with Appaloosas when I was very young and then I moved on to warmbloods, and then my dad always had one or two stock horses,” she said.

“Since then I have accumulated quite a few of them just from the ease of doing anything with them … they very rarely complain and they just do it.”

‘An international phenomenon’

West Australian ASHS director, Lance Butcher, said he saw a bright future for the breed.

He said he also believed its versatility would continue to grow and that the breed would become more popular beyond the nation’s borders.

ASHS National Show committee convenor, Bruce Moxey, was of the same opinion when he spoke at the national show.

“We can breed a competition horse, we can breed a tough horse, we can breed a family horse, but it can all be the one horse.”

Riders say the Australian stock horse has a quiet temperament that makes it easy to handle.

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