According to historical documentation, Sable Island’s horses were survivors from some of the hundreds of shipwrecks due to fog, storms and hidden sand bars off the shores of Sable Island since 1583. A less romantic story is more likely. Deported Acadians in the mid-1700s brought the horses to the island from mainland Canada when they tried to farm the harsh land and set up a community.
Crops could not survive and the settlers were forced to leave. When they left, they also left their horses behind to fend for themselves. In 1801 a life saving station was set up on Sable Island. Families soon arrived to live on the island and man the station. Some attempted to train the now wild horses to help in saving shipwrecked sailors.
The rescue station was closed in 1958 and again the wild horses were left behind. Today Sable Island is run by Parks Canada. The feral horses have thrived over the years. There are more than 500 horses living on this tiny sliver of an island, 150 miles off the east coast of Nova Scotia, today. They are protected by law and under a strict research regime, untouched by man. The horses are wild, but have no fear since they have no predators on the island. They roam in herds and family bands. Four or five horses will roam with a stallion as the patriarch, one mare and two or three siblings.
The Sable Horse is one of the hardiest breeds of horses living today, anywhere in the world. They eat the dense marram grass that grows naturally on the island. They find water in the scattered ponds created by rain and snow. If the ponds dry up they dig for water, which is generally quite close to the surface. Their only shelter against the ferocious winters is their own family. They huddle together between sand dunes to stay warm and increase their chances of survival until the next spring.
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