Three hundred kilometers off the coast of Nova Scotia is a crescent-shaped island known as Sable Island, nicknamed "The Graveyard of The Atlantic." This strange island is famous for many reasons including its unstable sand-based landmass that is always moving, the fact that there have been over 350 shipwrecks on its sandbars, and for its unique breed of feral horse, the Sable Island Horse.
How They Came to be There
A popular legend states that Sable Island horses are believed to be descendants of Spanish horses who arrived in the 1700's by shipwreck, swimming to shore to save their lives. Although it is a good story, it is not the truth. The horses were deliberately introduced to the island in the 18th century by a Boston clergyman named Rev. Andrew Le Mercier. Several years later, during the British expulsion of the Acadians, several French horses ended up on the island, including Breton, Andalusian and Norman breeds, which later bred with the original New England horses and the Sable Island horse was born.
The island's harsh climate makes it very difficult for humans to sustain themselves, and many attempts at colonizing the island have failed, but the horses have remained. Because of the lack of human inhabitants, the horses had no other choice but to fend for themselves and have been feral ever since humans left.
The horses are tiny in comparison to their ancestors due to lack of food supply which limits their growth potential. They are stocky, short, and have developed short pasterns, or leg bones, to allow them to run easily through the sand. Their hair is long and shaggy which helps them cope with the cold Atlantic winters and strong winds, and all Sable Island horses are brown or black.
The current horse population is untouched by humans and are truly wild. Although they are not managed by people, they are studied from a distance in an non-invasive way, and tourists are starting to come to the island to see this unique animal up close.
Herds number between 160 and 360 horses depending on the time of the year. There is a high death rate on the island due to extreme weather and the horse population is always in swing. If not killed off by the cold, they often die from starvation due to tooth loss from the wind-blown sand storms eating away at their teeth.
In the past several offspring have been taken to the mainland and raised on farms. In these cases, the horses grew larger than their relatives due to a better diet and more comfortable climate.
Sable Island is a narrow island approximately 186 miles (300 kilometers) southeast of Halifax. It is only 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and at its widest, is just over half a mile (1 kilometer) wide. In addition to its feral horses, there are over 350 bird species and a migrating seal population which call the island home.
The island became an official Canadian national park in July 2013 and can be accessed by helicopter or chartered plane between June and October.
Image from flickr.com