Sable Island: a kingdom for horses

This sandy Canadian island was infamous as the Cemetery of the Atlantic, due to the numerous shipwrecks that ship nearby

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Sable Island: a kingdom for horses

Sable Island is a small Canadian island located 150 km south-east of Nova Scotia, under the municipality of Halifax. The whole island has been a national park since 2011 and on it lives the Sable Island horse, a type of wild horse.

This sandy Canadian island was infamous as the Cemetery of the Atlantic, due to the numerous shipwrecks that ship nearby. But it is also a national park inhabited almost exclusively by wild horses, of which there are at least 500.

This is due to an American trader who wants to transform Sable Island into a horse farm. When he died, the abandoned horses took over the island. The Pony Sable Island is a native pony of the island that lives in the wild and semi-wild.

It is a pony with horse phenotype and origins, often dark in color. The first ponies were released in the late 17th century, before going wild. Later, more ponies were added to the existing herd to improve the breeding herd. They were hunted for both private use and as a food source, nearly extinguishing them.

Sable Island: a kingdom for horses

In 1960, Canada protected this breed. Non-invasive studies on wild herd have been carried out since the 1980s. In 2007 a genetic analysis was carried out on the herd, concluding that the herd is unique in terms of genetic elements and may be of interest to biologists.

In 2008, the breed was officially declared representative of the island of Sable. In 2011 the island was officially declared a natural park. The herd is protected and free from any human intervention. Horses live only on Sable Island and Shubenacadie Wildlife Park on mainland Nova Scotia, via the downhill herd introduced in the 1950s.

The horses that remain on the Isle of Sable are wild. They usually measure between 132 and 142 cm. Males weigh around 360 kg and females weigh around 300 kg. The food available on the island limits its size, horses withdrawn from the island that eat more nutritious diets are generally larger.

Physically, horses resemble Spanish horses, with an arched neck and sloping croups. Overall, they are sturdy and short, with short legs that allow them to move easily over sandy or rough terrain. The tail is full and low. Their clothes are mostly dark in color, but some have white markings.

About half are berries, with the remainder split between seared, palomino, and black. Many horses on the island of Sable walk naturally. Prior to their protection, when they could be kept for human use, horses were known for having a sure-footed walk.

The population of the last few years (2009 and later) has varied between 400 and 550 animals. Due to a lack of predators, older horses often starve to death after damaging their teeth over a long period of exposure to sand and marram, a hard grass.