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On the battlefield

Spirited: Australia's Horse Story

On the battlefield

From the 1830s to the 1940s Australian horses in their hundreds of thousands were sent to live, work and die on overseas battlefields. At first, lighter types suited as infantry remounts, as well as heavier artillery and gun horses, were sold to the British Army for allocation to British and Indian Army units in Asia and the Middle East. The remounts, usually Thoroughbreds crossed with hard station horses carrying Arab, Timor pony and Cape horse bloodlines, became known as 'Walers', because the first exports were shipped from New South Wales.

Officers of the 9th Australian Light Horse on parade, Lebanon, 1918.
Officers of the 9th Australian Light Horse on parade, Lebanon, 1918. Australian War Memorial.

Demand for quality cavalry horses also grew at home from the 1850s, as locals formed volunteer units of mounted troops. From the 1880s, Australian colonial troops also took their own mounts to wars in Africa and during the First World War, Australia shipped almost 120,000 horses overseas.

Thirty thousand Australian Light Horse mounts went to the Middle East, another 80,000 horses were supplied to Indian cavalry units, and a further 10,000 were sent to haul artillery and supplies through the mud and cold of the Western Front.

The Australian Light Horseman, mounted on his Waler, became a national symbol of heroism, endurance and sacrifice.

Explore some of the stories and objects

 Inscribed pocket watch
Inscribed pocket watch

Presented to Major Dalton of the NSW Cavalry as a wedding gift in 1891.
 Boer War equipment
Boer War equipment

Used by Lieutenant Colonel Watchorn in southern Africa, about 1901.
 Australian Light Horse uniform
Light Horse uniform

Owned by farrier James Taylor, who served with the 9th Regiment in Egypt and Palestine.