THE wild horses of Coffin Bay have long been ingrained in the pioneering heritage of the lower Eyre Peninsula.
Genuine 'Coffin Bay brumbies' - bred from the direct descendants of the first Timor ponies used in the region and recognised by the brand C55 - are widely used as work and show horses.
But the last thing anyone would expect from them is their quiet temperament and docile nature, however these traits are driving their growing popularity, especially as children's ponies.
The Coffin Bay Brumby Preservation Society secretary Wies Roberts has always been passionate about horses. Starting at a young age in a pony club, she went on the become a qualified instructor and taught for more than 25 years.
From breaking-in horses, to participating in hunts and shows and everything in between, Wies has an unbridled zeal for all things equine.
Upon retiring, Wies and husband Reg moved to Coffin Bay from Port Lincoln in 2004 and joined the society to "meet people". Little did she know the local brumbies would soon become a full-time pursuit.
The original Society formed in 1981 on the back of concern the brumbies may be removed when the government-owned land they roamed was gazetted as a national park.
At the time, there was widespread consensus about the need to control and manage the breeding of the brumby population, but that they should remain in their home where they had "cemented their place in the history and hearts" of locals and visitors.
"I remember it was such a highlight to see the wild horses come down for a drink at sunrise when we were out camping and fishing," Wies said. "Visitors would come especially to see the brumbies in the park."
Horses have been in the park area since 1839, brought ashore and bred by Captain Henry Hawson and then WR Mortlock, adapting to the special conditions of the area.
Today's bloodlines originate from these first horses which were integral in the early pioneering days of the West Coast and opening up the land for farming.
By the 1930s, the horse enterprise had fallen on hard times and the ponies ran.
The pastoral land was donated to the government in 1972, and the brumbies stayed.
For more than 20 years, the society managed the brumbies through trapping, culling and selective stallion replacement.
A small, controlled herd of 20 brood mares, a couple of stallions and their offspring were permitted to stay in the park.
Excess brumbies were caught, handled and then sold. Today's strong, attractive herd is evidence of this long-term, careful management.
The brumbies continued to have relatively free use of the area they had occupied for 170 years.
However, this long tenure came to a sudden end when, in the same year Wies and Reg joined the society, the government moved to rid the park of the brumbies completely.
This decision was met with fierce opposition from the society and many locals, who saw the brumbies as a living part of the local heritage.
Wies was outraged and fought to keep the brumbies in the park.
Finally, when it was clear the local sentiments were no match against the government, the society managed to trap and load 35 horses. The rest were shot.
The saved horses formed the basis of today's Coffin Bay Brumby herd.
The society purchased Brumbies Run for $300,000 in 2004, a 360 hectare block at Coffin Bay, to run 30 mares and foals while the stallions more kept on land owned by other members.
And so began a new era for the brumbies.
The society raised $100,000 and the local community and secured a government load, which must be paid back within 50 years to retain the freehold lease.
*Full report in Stock Journal, April 28 issue, 2011.