The Waler is an Australian working horse breed that originated from the horse stock that was bought to the Australian colonies in the 1800s. The name comes from the fact that they were first bred in New South Wales and so were originally known as New South Walers. The waler combined a variety of breeds; notably the Cape horse (from the Cape of Good Hope), English breeds (such as the Thoroughbred, Clydesdale, Percheron and Arab) and the Timor pony. It was originally considered only a "type" of horse, and not a distinct breed.
Bred in the Australian outback, the waler was a hardy animal with great endurance even when wasted from lack of food and water. It was used as a stockman's horse and prized as a military remount. Between the 1840s and 1940s there was a steady trade in walers to the British Indian Army. Walers were also used by exploration expeditions that traversed inland Australia.
In Australia's two wars of the early 20th century—the Second Boer War and the First World War—the waler was the backbone of the light horse mounted forces. It was especially suited to working in the harsh climate of the Sinai Peninsula and Palestine where it proved superior to the camel as a means of transporting large bodies of troops. The gait of the waler was considered ideal for a cavalry mount. It could maintain a fast walk and could progress directly to a steady, level canter without resorting to a trot which was noisy, liable to dislodge gear and resulted in soreness in the horse's back.
During the First World War, 121,324 walers were sent overseas from Australia. Of these, 39,348 served with the First Australian Imperial Force, mainly in the Middle East, while 81,976 were sent to India.
Due to quarantine restrictions, only one waler is known to have been returned to Australia; "Sandy", the mount of Major-General W.T. Bridges, who died at Gallipoli in May, 1915. At the end of the war most surplus horses in the Middle East were sold to the British Army as remounts for Egypt and India. Some horses that were categorised as being unfit were destroyed. Also some light horsemen chose to destroy their horses rather than part with them but this was an exception, despite the popular myth that portrays it as the ultimate fate of all the horses.
As demand for stockhorses and remounts declined in the 1940s, the waler trade ended and in a few decades the breed had almost completely disappeared. In the 1980s efforts began to reestablish the breed using wild walers descended from horses that had been set loose in the outback when the commercial trade ceased.