I’ve always loved horses, and throughout grade school I was chided many times for drawing horses on the back of notebooks, text books, even exams. For my 8th birthday I received a book about the wild horses of Sable Island. I carried it with me everywhere I went. One afternoon I was sent home from school for etching a Sable Island wild horse into the top of my wooden desk.
Eventually I picked up a camera and began to follow and photograph horses in rural areas around my home in Ottawa Ontario. In my early 20’s, I had an experience that would change my life forever. I was hiking in the Rocky Mountains in Alberta when suddenly the earth shook, and a herd of wild horses galloped past me. Manes flying, mares with foals, a muscular stallion on the alert. It was a fleeting moment but I knew I wanted to experience wild horses again and again. More than ever, I wanted to see the wild horses of Sable Island.
The tough, sturdy horses have survived on the island since the late 1700’s. Quite admirable when you consider the weather challenges facing the island due to it’s remote location in the Atlantic Ocean, 300 km from Halifax. A handful of scientists, researchers and meteorologists work on the island but there are no facilities for visitors. With no overnight accommodations and the prohibitive cost of chartering a plane for a same day beach landing and departure, my dream of seeing the wild horses of Sable Island looked unlikely.
But thankfully that was about to change. In December 2013, the Canadian government officially declared Sable Island as Canada’s 43rd National Park Reserve. Known for leading expeditions to the arctic, Canadian company ‘Adventure Canada’ was chosen to bring travellers to the land of wild horses. I was ecstatic to be one of the passengers aboard the vessel ‘Ocean Endeavour’ , which sailed from St John’s Newfoundland to anchorage one mile off the sandy shore of Sable Island. Parks Canada provided extensive briefing: once on the island, we were to follow our guides, walk only on established horse trails so we did not disturb fragile vegetation, and we needed to respect a minimum 60 metre distance from the horses.
We accessed Sable Island via Zodiac inflatable boat and within 30 minutes, I saw my first family band of wild horses. Long, tangly manes, tails almost to the ground, they posed majestically for our small group. I didn’t photograph the horses right away because I wanted to breathe it all in. Plus, it was hard to focus with the tears in my eyes!
Steeped in Canadian history, true survivors, the wild horses that Canadian children dreamed of seeing firsthand, now made possible. This July will be my third Adventure Canada trip to Sable Island to share some time on a windswept slice of sand with the most beautiful horses on earth.
I hope you can join me! Experiencing the wild horses of Nova Scotia’s Sable Island… quite possibly the most Canadian way to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday!