Name of breed: Sable Island Horse
Country of origin: Sable Island (an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada)
Breed origin: The Sable Island horse is a type of wild horse found on Sable Island, an island located off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Although popular legends claim that these horses swam ashore from the island’s many shipwrecks, this is not actually supported by historical or genetic evidence. Instead, the Sable Island horses were deliberately introduced to the island during the 18th century. The horses that live on the island today are thought by most historians and scientists, to have descended mostly from horses taken by the British during the Expulsion of the Acadians. Other breeding stock, including horses of Thoroughbred, Morgan and Clydesdale breeding, were sent to the island during the later half of the 19th century to improve the breeding stock.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the horses on Sable Island were periodically rounded up for private use and sale for slaughter, so by the 1950s the horses were in danger of extinction. In 1960 the Canadian government placed the horses under protection of the law, insisting that people receive written permission before they could “molest, interfere with, feed or otherwise have anything to do with the ponies on the Island.”
From the 1980s on, noninvasive herd studies have been completed on the horses and many a photographer have documented the breed in stunning photography series (most notable is of course Roberto Dutesco who has a gallery in New York dedicated to these horses). In 2008, the Sable Island horses were declared the official horse of Nova Scotia, and in 2011, the island was declared the Sable Island National Park Reserve.
Distinguishing features: Although they are sometimes referred to as the Sable Island pony due to their small size (13 to 14 hands), the Sable Island Horse has a horse phenotype and horse ancestors. Usually dark in colour, the limited availability of food on the island does limit their size – any offspring removed from the island and fed more nutritious diets, are generally large for this reason. Stocky and short, they have very shaggy coats, manes and tails. Many also present with an ambling gait and are known for their sure-footedness.
Modern day Sable Island Horse: The herd is unmanaged and legally protected from interference by humans.
Image credit: Roberto Dutesco