Central Queensland grazier Paul Johnston has always loved working with horses.
“Growing up, all my friends had properties and I used to spend all my time … going out to their places and working with horses,” he said.
“Once you have their trust, they [horses] will give you 110, 120 per cent.”
So when Mr Johnston first learned of the controversy surrounding how best to manage wild horses in New South Wales, he was inspired to act.
Brumbies are declared feral animals in Australia and are trapped in the high country as part of the 2021 Kosciuszko National Park (KNP) Wild Horse Heritage Management Plan.
The New South Wales government plan lists rehoming trapped horses for domestication as a primary control method.
“I got introduced closely with the brumbies about seven or eight years ago,” Mr Johnston said.
“And we feel that their heritage value is worth a great deal to this country.”
Mr Johnston and his partner Moreen Levin established Clearview Brumby Rescue at Thangool, 150 kilometres south of Rockhampton, in 2020.
“We’ve worked on the passion of these brumbies ever since,” Mr Johnston said.
Ms Levin said she had embraced the opportunity to give the animals a new lease on life.
“It means the world to me,” she said.
“After [setting up the rescue], I had people contacting me left, right and centre saying, ‘We wish we could do what you’re doing, we wish we could take on a brumby’.
“There’s been over 300 brumbies in two years that we’ve rehomed.”
Willing helpers make a difference
To fund its operation, Clearview pays for the animals to be delivered to central Queensland and then charges a fee for them to be rehomed on properties after they have settled.
Mr Johnston said the clinic had been “swamped by enthusiasm” from people across the country wanting a brumby.
“We’re rehoming 90 per cent in Queensland, but we’ve rehomed as far as Lismore, Mullumbimby, and we’ve even rehomed two brumbies to Tasmania,” he said.
“We’ve had that big of an impact on people.”
The program relies on volunteers to care for the animals and Mr Johnston said there had been a multitude of helpers, many of whom lived on-site for extended periods.
“People come here and some even stay and do work with them and they’ve just fallen in love,” he said.
“We’ve had people come from New Zealand, from the Netherlands, some people that have had nothing to do with horses before and they’ve gone away absolutely rocked with the experience.”
After years of debate about brumby management, Mr Johnston said he was motivated to challenge public perceptions of the animals.
“There are so many misconceptions out there about these fellas,” he said.
“When you see people’s faces, they are just never what they expected.
“They’re one of a kind, every one of them.”
Ms Levin said their wild background meant brumbies had retained many attributes domestic horses had lost.
“People pay trainers thousands of dollars to train horses to do what these guys do naturally,” she said.
“Just their agility, their nature, their moves, their temperaments, their intelligence, things you just can’t buy anymore.
“There’s just nothing they can’t do if you give them the chance.”
Brumby challenge an opportunity
In Springsure, 330 kilometres west of Rockhampton, the idea of taming a brumby is taking root.
A group of locals has established the Springsure Show Brumby Challenge, tasked with training a brumby to ride in the local show in June.
Competitor Rob Stewart said it was an exciting opportunity to test out his skills.
“It should be a good showcase of people’s ability to get something that was a few weeks ago running around wild to hopefully being part of the crew and participating in the show,” he said.
It is early days, but Mr Stewart said he could certainly see a future for brumbies on his property.
“I think there’s definitely room for brumbies in anyone’s stock camp,” he said.
“It’s a natural resource that we’ve got and if people have the ability to put into them and get them calm and used, yeah definitely.”
Mr Johnston is hopeful greater public exposure of the brumbies will help give more animals a second chance.
“While they [the NSW government] are trapping, we will stand up to the plate and try to find these animals their forever homes,” he said.
“Until you’ve experienced it, don’t knock them and criticise because it’s such a learning experience.
“These animals have proven that they are diversified and we’re showing they can be used in many disciplines.”