Stoic as they come, the historic Waler breed of brumbie is alive in the eyes of passionate horse lovers despite their years of persecution as a feral pest.
Their descendants, as proven with DNA analysis, roam freely in places like the Guy Fawkes River National Park, which runs from Ebor towards Dalmorton in the Clarence Valley.
At North Dorrigo Arnold and Sally Duckett have been working with some of these wild horses out of a love for the breed. Their pastime is a practical way to preserve these unique genetics while celebrating the Waler's role in our nation's history.
Selected by the military for their cavalry, the New South Walers - as their name came about - created history among the Light Horse troops for their epic endurance during the Boer War.
Like the Blue Heeler dogs that sometimes trot alongside, Walers are a uniquely Australian breed with great diversity of blood that includes British and Timor ponies, the African Cape Horse, Arabians and thoroughbreds, heavy draught types and strong coach steeds.
"These horses bring a lot of joy to a country person who gets satisfaction out of the bush and breeding," says Mr Duckett, who with his wife Sally run a beef and Wagyu/dairy herd on Tamalee.
"From childhood, I have always had an interest in horses and have learned to handle and break them in, also training, shoeing and have made packsaddles and numerous other leather items - all for the love of horses and country."
From the home yards he can point out Mt Hyland and the headwaters to the Guy Fawkes catchment. As a horse enthusiast he rode into the gorge country with his best mate to see for themselves what the brumbies were like.
"It's a beautiful river; a unique place and very peaceful," Mr Duckett says, recalling tales of the early days from his friend and Dorrigo resident Tom James, born in 1914, who worked at Buccarumbi before the second world war. In good years he would muster 1800 to 2000 prime fat bullocks off the river flats and out of the bush either side, to drive them up through the bush to Ebor selling yards.
"The quality of the horses in those days would have been something to see," Mr Duckett says.
Mr Duckett advocates keeping the bloodlines alive where they reside - in the bush, to help manage vegetation.
"We need to show some respect for the sacrifices they made in war. It wasn't just riders; the Walers were regarded with as much value as men in the last cavalry. In the Boer War it was a team effort."
In the early 1990's when riding in the National Park the herd was impressive with three or four mares and a stallion at nearly every river crossing.
"With a group of friends we worked out where the horses trotted-to and followed their track. A rope and hessian yard was set up to capture the brumbies, the most we yarded at one time was 18 head. While the horses settled we had a cuppa," Mr Duckett recalls.
The freshly captured horses - mares with their foals and a stallion - were then roped and haltered and taught to lead off another horse. The next morning they were taken to water and then began their journey out of the national park to their new homes on the Dorrigo Plateau.
"That's the beauty of the breed," says Sally Duckett.
"Once your hand is on them, they're your horse. It takes a couple of days to accept you but once they have your trust they will follow."
To break the horse so that it will accept a kind hand, before a firm one, followed by a saddle, however, is another level of skill.
"A quiet and gentle approach is the best way to get the horses to trust and accept the breaking in process," advises Mr Duckett.
"It might only take two or three days if you do the ground work properly, then the mouthing and saddling process begins."
The stocky Waler is notoriously good on its feet, with stout legs and hard hooves well suited to the rocky country.
"You don't get that in a captive breed," observes Mr Duckett.
These days the Ducketts have just two Walers on the property and use them every day for general farm work and ANZAC Day parades to honour the sacrifices of men and their horses.
"We prefer horses to do cattle work over vehicles," Mr Duckett says. "The cattle are calmer with horses and dogs. And the brumby is safer, more sure footed."
One such favoured mount, Guy Fawkes Clyde, was a lovely buckskin and DNA tested to prove the Waler blood. He became an Anzac parade favourite for many years.
Guy Fawkes Cassie who still represents the Walers in Anzac Day parades was also entered into a Bellingen show and was named supreme ridden exhibit, handled by 13 year old Shanlee Duckett.
Another Waler was sold to a travelling Englishman who rode and packed his stout companion from Cooktown to Ebor on the National Trail, proving to all who admired the horse that its legacy as a sure-footed beast of endurance was unfaltering on this, the hardest of rides.
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