...They are just crossbreed horses. Period. There is huge variation, just as with domestic horses. Especially in a big land like Oz. Especially when traditionally station(what you mob over the sea call ranches) horses are left to breed & run 'feral' until they're rounded up as 2-3yo, sometimes older, just as needed, to be broken. What's the difference??...
Selective breeding by nature isn't going to select the same characteristics as selective breeding by people. To use "Cowboy" as an example...
He has excellent feet. Every horse should be bred to have feet like his! And he has good leg bone for his size. Mia was 10-11 inches taller, yet her legs were only slightly thicker than Cowboy's. I consider that a big positive, but others might consider it a fault. He has no withers and a short, very broad back. Those are kind of good, kind of not. Tough to find a saddle that fits him well. But it IS a strong back for his size. Short, thick neck. If he wants to ignore his rider, it will take a lot of work to get him to change his mind. Big head for his size. The good news is he also has a brain.
I stink at judging conformation, but his walk rolls like a drunk sailor, his trot is choppy, yet his canter is wonderfully smooth.
That is a sample of one. There are mustangs that would tower above him, slender mustangs, mustangs that look part draft, others that look more Arabian. My point is only that human breeders select for things that the human wants, while nature selects for efficiency and survival.
Over half of the mustangs are in Nevada. Deserts. By definition, they are on overgrazed land. They wouldn't be "surplus" otherwise. So the deserts select for smaller horses, and competition for food doesn't help. That is quite different from a ranch letting horses roam on the land, controlling what stallions are there to breed, being willing to provide hay in tough times, etc.
Bandit comes from the Navajo Nation, which doesn't come under the BLM. Lots of feral horses. His mother was a "mustang" in the sense she was often feral, but they know who the mother was...so not entirely feral. And the dam was ridden some of the times. She would probably be better described as a free-ranging horse ridden occasionally instead of a mustang - probably closer to what you are describing in Australia.
is that free range horses learn to think for themselves. They have to assess their own risk and determine how to handle things. They learn the local environment from the herd, but one from the open deserts of Nevada may know nothing about thick forests. I like
negotiating with a horse. When we come across a rise, or are about to drop into a wash, Cowboy and Bandit both like to pause, look, smell and assess. Trooper will plow on without looking at anything. And I like a cautious horse who is thinking for himself.
But not everyone does. There is a "sticky" on HF that says a good trail horse never looks at anything besides the trail. Bandit is always looking, smelling and listening on the trail. I think that is good...but I've been told by experienced riders that I shouldn't tolerate it!
Many training programs assume instant and total obedience is the end-all of riding. Cowboy became a very sour lesson horse. I think part of it was the lessons made no sense to him, yet he was expect to snap to and obey what he viewed as stupid commands. And if he rebelled, he was punished. Punished, IMHO, for having a good brain!
BLM mustangs aren't quite the same as free-range ranch horses. I'm not saying they are BAD horses. If I had to trust one horse in the desert with my life, it would be little BLM mustang Cowboy! That is why my wife rides him on the rare times she rides. I trust Cowboy to bring them both back! But my 1.5 mustangs are not what a lot of folks would want in a horse. Neither has much 'curb appeal'. And how often do you hear a horse buyer saying, "I want a cautious, thoughtful horse who is willing to tell me no