There is debate over when humans first began to domesticate horses. Evidence suggesting domestication of the animal has been found in the central Asia country of Kazakhstan dating back to about 5000 BC. It is thought that these horses were first kept for food and milk, rather than riding or load-bearing. The earliest evidence of the use of horses for carrying goods, on tools like chariots, is from around 2000 BC in Mesopotamia.
Horses arrived in Australia in the pioneer days and have since been used for business and pleasure. Historical accounts suggest the horse population grew from just two stallions (male horses) and five mares (female horses) - all English Thoroughbreds and Spanish horses - brought to the country aboard the First Fleet in 1788.
Later imports of original horse breeds included the Thoroughbred, Cape of Good Hope, Arabian, Timor Pony and Welsh Mountain Pony. A small number of horses broke loose in these early years and later became known as brumbies - the legendary tough wild horses of the outback. Today they are predominantly found in the Northern Territory and Queensland, the state with the largest overall number of horses in Australia.
Horses were initially used in Australia for transportation and in working the cattle stations. They also served the military in cavalry units that saw military action throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although Australian horses waned in popularity until recreational riding became more prevalent in the 1960s, the horse industry is currently diverse and thriving.
The Australian Stock Horse - originally called the Waler - emerged as arguably the best-suited breed to the country's conditions. It is a versatile horse known for its endurance, agility and good temperament. It is now used in a variety of equestrian sports, such as Dressage, Polocrosse and Campdrafting.
Horse racing has been popular ever since the first race was recorded in Sydney in 1810. Today it is a hugely popular, multi-million dollar industry in Australia that brings the country to a standstill on one day each year for the Melbourne Cup. Australian Thoroughbred breeding has long been involved in the importation of horses, especially from Europe and later the U.S.
There are 9,300 principal breeders in Australia on the Australian Stud Book's database and 31,659 horses competing, according to the Australian Racing Board latest count. Thoroughbred Breeders Australia is the premier body representing breeders in the country.