Off the coast of Halifax, there is a long, thin island of sand amid the blue of the Atlantic. It’s one thin streak in an otherwise cold, empty ocean. However, this island is home to one of the most fascinating families of animals in Canada. This is where the Sable Island horses live.
The island is fairly unassuming. It’s mostly sand (“Sable Island” literally means “island of sand”), with patches of beach grass, beach peas, and sandwort. The island is 35 km long and 1.6 km wide at its widest point with small hills and ponds formed from storms over the years. While the island is relatively sparse it is a unique and beautiful landscape unlike anywhere else in Canada.
Beyond the unique landscape, the island also happens to be home to many wild horses. Right now 500 wild Sable Island horses roam the island. They are one of the few creatures that make this sandy spit their permanent home.
Grazing on the low-lying grass and galloping across the shore, it’s almost like a scene in a movie to spot them. Their long, untrimmed manes float in the breeze while hooves pound the sand. Is this Disney or Nova Scotia?
Now you may be wondering how they got all the way out to the island. And the answer is that they are descendants of horses introduced to the island in the 1700s. Today, they and a rotating staff at the weather station are the only inhabitants of the island as it was never properly settled.
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As romantic as this might seem, the life of a Sable Island horse isn’t easy. About 12.4% of the population dies off every year due to starvation and hypothermia among other things. Living here ain’t easy and while the horses were once considered an invasive species, they are now part of the island’s ecology.
Despite having a hard life, the horses are protected under the 1961 Sable Island Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act. They are a wild and naturalized species that exists much like deer would in your local forest. Since 2013, Sable Island has been a national park reserve and Parks Canada has seen no need to manage the horses due to lack of over and under population.
We think it’s pretty special. A sandy island, windswept beaches, and a herd of wild horses. It’s unlike anywhere else in Canada. Now if you’re wondering you can indeed visit the island but only between June and October and if you have arranged your own transport by air or sea. You can learn more here.
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