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About Horses in Australia

Australia just wouldn’t be the same without horses. These beautiful animals have played a key role in shaping our culture, society and environment. The National Museum of Australia's Horses in Australia project focuses on our nation's equine and equestrian heritage.

We hope to engage with horse enthusiasts across the country, whether you're a dedicated race-goer, an aspiring Olympic equestrian, a weekend trail-rider or someone who remembers falling off their pony as a child.

We're interested in all the diverse and powerful bonds that have formed between horses and people in Australia, and we want to explore how these special relationships might continue to shape our lives into the future.

A man feeding a horse.
Brookleigh Stud strapper Olivier Mouel with Brookleigh Excalibur at the 2013 Tom Quilty Gold Cup endurance riding championships. Photo: Jason McCarthy.

Equine collection and exhibition

The National Museum's Horses in Australia project commenced in early 2013 and is part of the Museum’s People and Environment program. The project aims to explore how objects from the Museum’s collections tell the story of Australia’s horses and its horsemen and women. It will bring some of our lesser-known treasures into public view, build new collections and record new stories documenting the breadth and variety of Australia’s vibrant horse culture, past and present.

Explore our website to learn more about the project and find out how you can get involved. Join our People & Environment blog so we can keep you up-to-date with news about collections, stories and events. Visit our Get involved page to find out how you can contribute to and support our work.

A rider on horseback, silhouetted against a cloudy sky.
A rider in an equestrian event at the Longford Show, Tasmania, in 2008. Photo: Lannon Harley.

The Horses in Australia project includes the development of a major National Museum temporary exhibition.

Spirited: Australia's Horse Story will feature a range of objects and stories from the Museum's National Historical Collection. It will debut at the National Museum in Canberra in September 2014 and then travel to venues across Australia.

More information on the exhibition will be available soon.

An enduring connection

The first horses – around seven of them – to arrive on this continent came with the first British colonists, in January 1788. By the 1830s, after a few decades of equine scarcity, almost every second person in the colonies owned a horse and when English author Anthony Trollope visited in 1873, his observation was that ‘In Australia, everyone keeps horses’.

Horses helped settlers explore the inland, become bushrangers and get to the goldfields. They were essential to the development of the nation’s pastoral, farming, mining and timber-getting industries and for decades were the main means for moving goods, supplies, mail and passengers between towns and around cities. Horses accompanied Australians into war, performed for our and perhaps their entertainment, led to the invention of new sports and competitions and generated important trades such as chaff cutting, coachbuilding, saddlemaking and blacksmithing.

Today, horses no longer set the rhythm and character of daily life in Australia, but the skills, fashions and technologies they fostered continue to shape where we live, what we wear and how we get around. Thousands of Australians across the country continue to share deep connections with horses, from outback jackaroos and jillaroos, to Melbourne Cup jockeys, Olympic equestrians, pony club kids and weekend riders.

Bush mailman by ST Gill, 1865.
Bush mailman by ST Gill, 1865. National Museum of Australia.

People and the Environment

Horses in Australia is part of the National Museum's People and the Environment program. Discover more stories about people's relationships with Australia's natural and built environments on our People and the Environment website.