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Sable Island Wild Horses: A Canadian Heritage- Part 2…

“Small in stature, but mighty in spirit.”


Around 200 wild horses roam the dunes and marram grass on Sable Island. The once domesticated horses returned to their natural social system of small herds, each defended by a stallion and led by an older herd mare. Each herd has a range of about 3 square kilometres, with 40 to 50 herds on the Island.

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.

When winter arrives, bringing with it snow and freezing rain, the herd mare huddles the herd close together for warmth. The horses grow thick, woolly coats and search out protection in the hollows between the sand dunes. The population is characterized by rapid growth, interrupted by periodic crashes every few years. After several mild winters, the population will increase, but many old or very young horses will die during the next harsh winter.


Most foals are born during May and June. Long-term research on the Sable Island horses includes keeping records of foal birth dates and of the number of foals born to each mare during her lifetime. To do this, the family bands must be checked frequently.

On Sable Island, however, weather and beach conditions sometimes make it difficult to locate the horses, and some new foals are several weeks old by the time they are found. Summer fog can be especially troublesome – horses simply vanish like wraiths on the dunes in the damp grey landscape …



Visitors to this website will notice that names are used for some of the horses. But these are not “official” names, and certainly the horses, whichare wild animals, don’t recognize these names. Names are used only to keep track of who’s who for research and monitoring purposes. In the formal database, all the horses have four-digit numbers: the first two digits indicate the year of birth, and the second two digits identify the

Bo with her male 2002 foal - both are chestnuts. Bo is the 1996 daughter of Urchin, and she is half-sister of both Chiapas and Santorini.

 individual. However, when taking notes in the field, it’s much easier to remember names which bring to mind particular characteristics, relationships or circumstances for each individual.  For example, chestnut foals with similar face markings born during one year were named after eagles, hawks and falcons; and names such as “Goblin”, “Hobgoblin” and “Hobbit” were used for similar-looking members of the same family band.

Much of the research on the Sable Island horses is based on long-term observations and life histories of individual animals. Although field studies provide information about maternal relationships, paternity must be determined by genetic analysis of tissues collected after individuals die of natural causes. With this accumulated data it will be possible to develop `family trees’ for many of the horses.


Although the horses are presently protected by the Sable Island Regulations, this protection exists only so long as the horses and their island habitat are effectively monitored. Since 1801, when the life-saving stations were established, there has been a continuous government presence on Sable Island. Now the future of Sable Island and the Station is in question, and the Government of Canada is considering various options – one of which is to close the Station, thus ending 200 years of full-time human presence and stewardship. This option would put not only the horses, but all the island’s flora and fauna at serious risk. 

*All rights & credits to for the information and  some of the photos in article. This information does not belong to me and I do not claim to have written it.

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