In July 2017 I traveled to Sable Island on a ship with Adventure Canada. Visiting and photographing the wild horses of Sable Island had been a dream of mine for over 9 years, and finally I was able to go. The island is only 25 miles long, a sand island, 100 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. Since December 2013, the island is managed by Parks Canada, and any voyage there has to be approved and monitored by them.
The morning we arrived on the island, the weather was fair and clear, perfect for a landing. I could not wait to get ashore. I was with one of the groups who wanted to visit the horses, of course. We first spotted a family of wild horses in the dunes, and watching the foals who were very curious about us, was very entertaining. Just like in wild horse families I have observed in the American west, the stallion kept an eye on us and his family the whole time we were there.
After observing this family we walked through the sand and the dunes to get to the fresh water ponds. We were incredibly lucky since the gorgeous Iris were in bloom, and a stallion was in the middle of the pond grazing on water grasses.
I noticed that many of the mares that were nursing still had their heavy winter coats, as did the yearlings, last year’s foals. So much of the mare’s nutrients go to feeding her foal and so she may be quite late in shedding out.
We were able to watch one stallion run up to another and posture and prance, but there was no fighting. It seemed clear that these two knew each other.
All too soon we had to head back to the ship, but I was happy to hear we were coming back to the same area the next day.
We did go out in the Zodaics in the afternoon for a cruise off the shore, but it was hard to get close enough for photographs, because the horses would see us and run away, except when we came to these two bachelor stallions
It was foggy the next day, which gave the island an air of mystery.
We went back to the pond and enjoyed watching the horses at the pond, then doing mutual grooming on each other.
The sky cleared for a little while.
The most excitement we had that day was when a stallion over the hill ran down to the stallion at the pond, and they faced off, sniffing each other, circling, posturing and prancing. The stallions look gorgeous when they are showing off to intimidate each other. The stallion with the smaller family, who looked younger, finally ran back to his family.
We went back to the ship. The next day the fog was thicker and we could not even see the beach from the ship. We ended up seeing only 1 horse that day, a bachelor stallion who seemed unfazed by all his fans.
On our last day on Sable Island, we visited an area dubbed “Horse Heaven” for good reason. I counted over 70 wild horses in the grassy dunes in this area. Parks Canada did not let us get off the sand and get near the horses because of nesting gulls.
Two stallions have a short disagreement.
This small family was taking a mid morning nap.
And this yearling we nicknamed “Woolie,” for obvious reasons.
My time on the island was far too short, but I feel very lucky to have been able to see and photograph and come close to these very special horses in their unique home. There are over 500 wild horses on Sable Island, and the population has been on the rise in recent years due to the increase in the grey seal population – the decaying bodies of seals provide nutrients for the grass to grow.
But unlike the wild horses in America, these wild horses are protected, and have been since 1960. They are not rounded up, they are not given birth control. The mortality rate for foals is 30-40%, high because of the very harsh winters. This is the very best place for them. There are studies done on the horses, with each being given a name and number. They will be born, live out their lives, and die and then their bodies will nourish the island for future generations. They give me hope, because that is what I want for our wild horses in the American west.
The images of Sable Island wild horses in this post plus many more can been purchased here: http://www.livingimagescjw.com/buy-books-prints/fine-art-prints/nggallery/wild-horses/Sable-Island
Friends of Sable Island Society, dedicated to the preservation of Sable Island: http://sableislandfriends.ca/