What is a Waler, and why is it 'special'?
The Waler is the only Australian horse breed (there are pony breeds too), with genes possibly going back to the First Fleet, certainly to early colonial days, and their heritage lines have, through extensive research by the WHOBAA founders, proven untainted by modern (post 1950s) blood.
All of the breeds the Waler developed from were hardy horses; due to the high cost of travel from the 17 to early 19 hundreds, it was imperative the horses survived the exhausting journey from their homelands to Australian shores, and thus only the very best were imported. These days, not only are modern domesticated horses less tolerant than their ancestors, but many of the breeds that foundered the Waler have been out-crossed for improvement (height, colour, movement etc.) or for a specific purpose, while others, including the Lincolnshire Trotter, Norfolk Roadster and Yorkshire Coacher, are now extinct altogether.
The Waler today is almost exactly as it was when it was first developed, and cannot be 'recreated' as some insist. They have not only the complicated and varied genetic heritage of their founding breeds, but also rare wild horse genetics. The genes would be totally different in “recreated” horses, which would simply not be Walers at all. And why recreate something when you could support the real thing, in dire need of saving?
Is the Waler a 'Type' or a 'Breed'?
Indisputably, it is a Breed. That is, the Waler 'today'.
In early days, their ancestors could barely be described as a distinctive type. They were a utility horse, bred by our early settlers for use in our great expanding agrarian industry to specific purposes, rather than to a breed standard. It was not for 198 long years after the first horses stepped hoof on Australian shores that the Waler first became recognised as a 'Breed' almost 200 years in the making, with the establishment of the first Waler Studbook.
I think my horse might be a Waler. How can I find out?
First, have a good look at it. Does it look like a Waler? Does it behave like a Waler? Has it got Waler traits? If you think it looks like a Clydesdale cross, a Quarter Horse, an Anglo Arab, a Thoroughbred – good. You can see it’s not a Waler. A Waler does not look like another breed, nor does it look like a cross-breed - it is a breed in itself a should conform to the breed standards set by WHOBAA. If you're not sure as to what you're looking for, please do not hesitate to ask a member of the Association - we are here to help!
If your horse looks decidedly like a Waler, fantastic! Second, you will need to gather and document as much information on the horse you can – where it came from, who it's previous owners were, it's breeder or property of origin, brands etc. Every little scrap of info you can possibly dig up is absolutely vital - and we are more than happy to help where we can! Unfortunately if not enough viable information can be sourced, then regardless of how much your horse looks or behaves like a Waler, then there is no way to prove it either way. We are very sorry to say many Waler candidates that more than likely were true Waler have been turned away from our books due simply to a lack of sufficient evidence.
Third, get DNA. This is a quick and painless matter of collecting hair samples from the mane or tail with the hair follicle (the waxy, bulbous bit that comes out of the skin) still attached – ask our Secretary about this. Currently, our breed testing is being done free, but there is a massive backlog; eventually, it will cost. We of course pay for routine parentage testing which is done with every single horse registered, as all equine stud book organisations do. We don’t send prospective new DNA for testing unless we have good reason.
What if I'm told my horse is a Waler?
Congratulations! Once DNA testing is complete (you will need patience, as DNA testing takes ages), then it will need to be classified. To have your horse Registered and Classified you must be a WHOBAA financial member. Send an e-mail asking the Studbook Keeper to arrange classifying, which is very thorough – a Classifier comes to inspect your horse. The Studbook Keeper is your friend and will guide you through the steps to full registration in the Stud Book. Finally, you will get your horses Registration Certificate and number.
What if I'm told my horse is Part-Waler?
Partbreds, no matter how much Waler is in them – three parts Waler, five eighths Waler, fifteen sixteenths Walers – never get into the studbook. A horse must be a a minimum half Waler to be registered as a Partbred. Less than 50% Waler breeding will not be registered.
Waler X Thoroughbred = Partbred Waler
Waler x Thoroughbred X Waler x Clydesdale = Partbred Waler
Waler x Clydesdale X Quarter Horse = Unregisterable
What if I'm told my horse is not a Waler?
Pass the tissues. It upsets us too. We more than anyone want more Walers, and if we say 'no' we always have very good reason. If you are considering joining our Association, we’d love you as a member and you are supporting our Australian rare breed. You don’t need to own a Waler, to join.
How does the Association source Walers?
Our approach is to consider all available historical evidence, identify the horses which maintain those attributes common to their ancestors and which are in danger of being lost, and preserve them in their offspring. We had to go to a lot of trouble to interview people and check out many, many stations in several states. Many we were forced to dismiss as they’d run other breeds there such as Quarter Horses, Arabs, Appaloosas, Clydesdales, Thoroughbreds, Australian Stock Horses (not a breed, may be a TB, QH etc.) etc.
Yes, once people bred Walers from Droughts, Saddle Horses and Ponies, but those breeds too were different back in the days of the horse trade, and even back then, there are written accounts where people knew a first cross was always a hit and miss affair, never right - it took some time to develop their own line. It took time for the Waler to breed true, and it has done so now, for generations.
It took a lot of interviewing and help from those who knew the areas, many old people - we were blessed with fabulous support and honesty. So many people wanted to see the Waler saved. It took countless hours in reference libraries before the internet was invented, swatting. Everything from horse sales to biographies to genetics. It then became a matter of also looking at the horses. And how our hearts turned over when they plainly told us themselves – here we are, the Holy Grail!
So ask, and also keep your own counsel, or ask us. We are here to help. We have years of experience. We have had decades of looking into most areas. We know when we see a real Waler. We started the original breed organisation, but had to leave when a new committee changed criteria and let non Walers be registered, then Peter Fischer started the Association to keep up our good work, and protect our real Walers from the new threat of fakes taking over. We were the first, we saved all the Walers originally.
Most of our Walers were obtained in the 1980’s and 90’s at a huge cost and effort for all concerned and only after masses of research. All stations we got our horses from, in Central Australia, have either been shot out or put new breeds on and polluted the genes.
Is the Studbook Still Open?
Yes. Some stations, reserves, parks and mining lands may still prove fruitful of Waler horses. Even the stations originally used to get our Walers, many we now believe have since been spoiled by modern genes, may have pockets of real Walers somewhere in the remote ranges and plains. It is a faint hope, and one we will continue to investigate until we are absolutely sure either way. We are in the unique position that there were hundreds of thousands of Walers when the trade stopped. Despite shooting and the introduction of other more popular breeds such as Quarter Horses and Appaloosas, we hope there may still be some out there. Walers are critically endangered and we are not shutting out any that may still be identified and saved. Our cut-off date for other breed influence is between 1945 - 1950.
There are many brumby horses in Australia, but very few are Walers now. If you think a brumby may be a Waler, they only have to ask. We know some areas and the genetics of the brumbies there but of course, not all areas – we’re always interested in identifying possible sources. That, as much as actually having a horse from there, can be a huge help. We would do all we can to mount an expedition, or support anyone doing so, even if that support is moral and with research, rather than financial. We know Mt Weld has some Walers. There are several other areas we have hopes of. Some brumby DNA from what seem safe areas is currently awaiting DNA testing with us.
Why join WHOBAA?
The Waler is in urgent need of good, honest people in support of them if their numbers are to continue to grow. This is why we are here; first and foremost for the Waler. It is the saddest thing in the world, impossible to understand on any level, that the main danger to this breed is the 'fakes' - horses labelled Walers despite a lack of through research and documentation. You can rest assured WHOBAA Inc. only registers genuine, proven, DNA tested Walers to ensure the Heritage blood of this incredible breed remains intact.
The Waler only has us between it and extinction. It’s Australian, it’s gentle, it’s strong, and it’s more than deserving of our recognition and support. It’s a mighty quest. Please join us and come along for the ride, your horse is waiting...