The population comprises 40 to 50 family bands. Band structure is variable, but most often consists of one dominant stallion, one or more mares and their offspring, and occasionally one or 2 subordinate mature males. Average band size is usually 4-8, though bands of 10 and 12 individuals are not uncommon. Males that are not in family bands form loosely organized "bachelor" groups, or, particularly if they are older, live as solitary stallions. Most foals are born between late April and August.
It is a popular belief that the ancestors of the horses were shipwreck survivors. However, most evidence indicates that the modern Sable Island horse is descended from Acadian horses taken to the island by a Boston merchant in the middle of the 18th century along with cattle, hogs and sheep in an unsuccessful attempt to start a farming settlement. Lifesaving stations were established on Sable Island in 1801 to aid crews of shipwrecks and the horses were used for riding and as draught animals. The lifesaving establishment continued until the mid-1900s, and several attempts were made in this period to "improve" the wild horses by introductions of new breeding stock. Surplus horses were rounded up periodically and sent to the mainland for sale.
Since 1962 the horses have been protected by federal law from all human interference. In this regard Sable Island horses are a unique population in eastern North America. Though feral horses are also found on the French island of Miquelon, south of Newfoundland; on Bird Shoal and Shackleford Bank, off North Carolina in the US; and on Chincoteague Island, Va, the Sable Island horses are of particular value in studies of the history, biology and behaviour of equids, and in the conservation of minor breeds and genetic resources. All current research on the Sable Island horses is noninvasive. The horses and their habitat received further protection in 2011 with the establishment of Sable Island NATIONAL PARK Reserve.
Author Z. LUCAS
Links to Other Sites
Parks Canada, the gateway to Canada’s natural and cultural heritage. Search their extensive website for information on specific parks and click on "Parks Canada's 3-D Tours" for a close-up virtual tour of Canada’s National Historic Sites and Parks across the country.
Sable Island: A Story of Survival
This multimedia website covers the history, geography, and geology of Sable Island. Features photos and stories about nearby shipwrecks, Sable Island’s wild horses, and more. From the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History.
Sable Island, N.S. granted national park status
A CTV News story about the unvieling of Sable Island National Park Reserve in Nova Scotia.
Free as the Wind: Sable Island Horses
An online exhibit that highlights the history of Sable Island and the famous horses that call it home. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.