17 January 2024

Wild horses' dawn brawl captured in Cooma couple's video

| Edwina Mason
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Two stallions fighting in Kosciuszko National Park

Ian and Michelle Brown were lucky enough to capture two wild stallions fighting for domination in Kosciuszko National Park. Photo: Snowy Brumby Photography Adventures with Michelle and Ian.

The raw unrestrained nobility of the wild equine herds of Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) was laid bare last weekend as Cooma photographers Ian and Michelle Brown captured, on film, a dawn tussle between two stallions.

Arriving at 5:45 am Sunday in a part of the park where the wild horses, or brumbies, converge annually to escape the summer heat, insects and relentlessly biting March flies, Ian says the stage was already set for an epic showdown.

“There’s a huge green tree, absolutely huge, and it’s the only tree in the area that somehow managed to survive the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 – I mean it’s incredible to see it surrounded by the grey, burnt trunks of all the surrounding trees,” he said.

The shade the tree offers means the mobs gather close by, leading to an inevitable crossing of paths of the stallions.

“Usually they’ll come up to each other, have a quick little ‘how’re you doing’, a little whinny and then they respect each other’s space,” Ian explained, “but the black [stallion] showed up and he was upset for some reason.”

Ian said a bay stallion and his mob – already in situ – may have got a bit close to the black stallion because their “little chat” turned into a dramatic two-minute high country gladiatorial battle.

“We’ve seen it all before but it normally doesn’t last that long and we were just lucky enough Michelle was able to film it,” Ian said.

For almost 10 years the Cooma couple has been trekking into the mountains at least once a week to photograph the different mobs of wild horses and Ian said Sunday’s melee was incredible to watch, given the physical condition of the two stallions.

“They were their best selves, glossy, robust, strong and full of vigour,” he said.

It was a moment surpassed only by one in 2018 when Michelle and Ian witnessed a 30-minute battle between two enormously popular stallions Paleface and Posterboy.

The photo Michelle took at that time won the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Australian Photography Awards (APA).

“That was an extraordinary encounter to watch,” said Ian. “This time I didn’t think the photos came out that well.”

Lucky he backed himself, because they’ve gone viral on social media.

Ian said their Facebook Page Snowy Brumby Photography Adventures with Michelle and Ian was created to share with the world the wild horses of the Snowy Mountains they encounter.

It has amassed 80,000 followers.

The wild horses of Australia’s alpine region are currently being targeted in culling programs administered by Victorian, NSW and ACT governments in a bid to reduce population numbers impacting the pristine environment.

The most recent population survey, conducted by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in October 2023, estimates the wild horse population in KNP at 17,432 with a 95 per cent confidence interval that at least 12,934 and up to 22,536 wild horses occur in the park.

READ ALSO Support sought for high-tech count of Kosciuszko’s wild horses

Wild horses are estimated to occur across more than 50 per cent of the park, with most of the wild horse population in the park’s northern block.

The NPWS is legally required to reduce the population of wild horses to 3000 and limit their range to 32 per cent of the park by June 2027.

Fundraising efforts toward an independent count of wild horses in the park have now surpassed their goal of $75,000 at $79,080.

The high-tech independent count is expected to get underway in coming months with pro-brumby supporters confident that the population density will be significantly lower than the NPWS states.

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I admit I have no knowledge of the background behind this problem. But, it breaks my heart to see these magnificent animals are killed. I look forward to all the abusive replies but I am still upset by their deaths.

patricia gardiner9:59 am 19 Jan 24

It is upsetting to see any animal killed whether it be domestic, native or feral. However, no matter how cute, cuddly or picturesque a feral animal appears, it is still ‘feral’ and does not belong in a natural environment, as they destroy that which we must preserve.

Karen Pedretti10:14 am 18 Jan 24

Thank you for the brilliant article on the plight of the Brumbies. I fully support the independent count being made, if you follow all the photographers or Brumbies you will understand there is no where near the numbers. As for aerial shooting, it’s a cruel disgrace as shown by photographic evidence, chasing any animal with a helicopter leads to dangerous harmful injuries without being shot. The brumby Australia wide needs to be saved, so many being shot all over Australia and in Victoria they shoot domestic horses that have escaped even though plenty of advertising on social media to say the owners are trying to get them back,.
Once again Thank you for writing such an informed article, let’s hope more people understand the truth

Marilyn Nuske8:20 am 18 Jan 24

Brumby Action Group Inc a not for profit incorporated association congratulates about regional on this informed article.
We fully support the independent technologically advanced and peer reviewed count.
Rocky Harvey and biostatistician Claire Galea are the force behind the campaign, which has been quickly supported by the brumby community, which has been calling for a better method to count brumbies, that will return realistic numbers, for over a decade.

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