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Arab sheikh backs wild horses for endurance

June 21, 2008

Lucky brumbies: these horses are part of a group taken from the Glen Innes area and moved cross-country before jetting their way to the Middle East.

Could Australia's wild horses be about to take the endurance world by storm?

Thirteen wild horses from Western Australia have been plucked from the wilderness, and, in a tale reminiscent of "My Fair Lady", now find themselves living in air-conditioned comfort in Dubai with personal grooms.

Their mission is to make their mark in the sport of endurance in what will be an interesting tussle between the survival-of-the-fittest law of natural selection and the selective breeding of horse owners.

The whole exercise had its roots in a website built by Broome woman Libby Lovegrove to alert the world to the plight of horses in the broad expanses of the Kimberley.

The site caught the attention of Alan Post, who is the personal Australian veterinarian to Dubai's deputy ruler, Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

In particular, he was interested in the wild horses living around Lake Gregory.

Ms Lovegrove's research showed that many of the horses are descended from horses of Arab bloodlines brought to the general area in the 1930s by priests of the Balgo and Kalumburu missions who planned to breed and sell them.

Thoroughbred and andalusian bloodlines are also known to be in the wild mix.

"There are beautiful palaminos, paints, cremellos ...," she says.

She says Mr Post came out to Broome and headed to Lake Gregory to look at the horses. He liked what he saw and managed to capture 13 suitable specimens to take to Dubai.

They were broken to halter at Lake Gregory and then were taken to Glen Innes, in northern New South Wales.

"He kept them there and got them ready for the flight," she says.

The horses are now resident in their air-conditioned stables with two grooms apiece, preparing for their first turn-out in endurance.

She hasn't heard when the horses will be competing but understands Mr Post will be back in October to get more horses.

Success could well prove a lifesaver for at least some of the estimated 4000 horses that live around Lake Gregory, which measures about 100km around.

She hopes success in endurance will go some way towards securing the future of the wild population. The animals, she says, have in the past been sold for petfood, whereas anyone with the money and means to capture them could end up with some very good bloodlines.

Running wild: wild horses in the Lake Gregory area.

Ms Lovegrove says there are thousands of wild horses which roam the wider area of the Kimberley. "Because of the large numbers of horses, station owners tend to treat these horses as pests, despite their extremely good bloodlines."

Some of the horses bred by the priests were used as stock horses on cattle stations but were released into the wild when replaced by motorbikes and helicopters.

"Today these beautiful horses - palominos, buckskins, chestnuts and paints - roam the wild gorges, rainforests and parklands of the northern Kimberley.

"The horses at Lake Gregory have a different life," she says. "Moving in their family groups around the lake and up the Sturt Creek they are mostly accustomed to humans driving past and stopping to watch them.

"Though wary, they can be approached before moving off. Our experience with the Lake Gregory horses has been very positive.

"Driving slowly amongst them and playing Pavorotti's opera music loudly we captured their interest and they came back time and again to line up and stare at us, fascinated by the new sounds, language and probably our laughing faces.

"These horses range in types from Arabs, Thoroughbreds and Andalusian. We even saw one family of Welsh Mountain Ponies and Timor types and the odd Percheron-stockhorse cross.

"We are currently encouraging the owners of the horses, the Walmajarri people of the Mulan Community, to allow registered Brumby welfare organisations to trap these horses.

Ms Lovegrove and like-minded individuals are applying for funding for training and infrastructure as well as publicity for the horses. By getting acknowledgement of their value they hope to secure a safe future for the horses.

They are are also working on improving water supplies, yards and fencing on an area near Broome where they can receive horses which would otherwise be destroyed.

The Lake Gregory area covers about 270,000ha and is a wetland of national and international importance.



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