There are many places on Earth that most of us will never have the opportunity to visit. Like Antarctica. Of course, there is no limit to the places on Earth and beyond that we can visit with our imagination. With no suitcases to pack, plane tickets to purchase or hotel rooms to book, an Imagination Vacation might not be so bad after all!

Antarctica is a little chilly, so let’s go somewhere a bit warmer. Let’s take a look at an island that most of us will never visit for ourselves: Canada’s Sable Island.

A satellite photo of Nova Scotia.

A satellite photo of Nova Scotia.

Sable Island is a tiny little sand bar located about 160 km southeast of Nova Scotia, on Canada’s East Coast. A sand bar is a landmass made up of sand; the word “sable”, in fact, is French for “sand”. Sable Island is 42 km long, and about 1 1/2 km at its widest point. From an airplane, it looks a little bit like a thumbnail!

A sattelite photo of Sable Island.

A satellite photo of Sable Island.

An even closer view.

An even closer view.

Once we get a little bit closer, we see that Sable Island is covered in beaches, sand dunes, grasses, and other low-lying plants. It is definitely warmer here than the Antarctic! Temperatures reach a pleasant 25°C at the peak of summer, and it only goes down to about -5°C in the winter. It’s windy, too! Sable Island’s shape is constantly changing due to strong winds and ocean storms.

Only five or so researchers live on the island year-round. Photographers and scientists sometimes come to visit in the summer months. It may be a bit of a lonely spot for humans, but not for the wildlife living here! Aside from hundreds of invertebrae and insects, over 330 species of birds have been spotted over Sable Island, with several species choosing to nest here. Five species of duck nest on the island as well. It is also home to Harbour and Grey Seals, and is frequently visited by large numbers of other species of seals.

Maybe you’re starting to wonder why we would ever want to visit this sandy little thumbnail, even on an Imagination Vacation. There are lots of other places we can go to see sand and birds and ducks and seals. Well, it just so happens that Sable Island is famous for some very special inhabitants: We’ve come here to see the island’s wild horses, peacefully grazing along the sand dunes and beaches.

A group of Sable Island horses graze near a pond.

A group of Sable Island horses graze near a pond.

Courtesy: Sable Island  Green Horse Society

Courtesy: Sable Island Green Horse Society

Sable Island is home to about 300 beautiful wild horses. They are among the very few wild horse populations that humans do not interfere with in any way. But where did the Sable Island horses come from in the first place?

A popular myth is that these horses are descended from shipwreck survivors. There have been about 350 recorded shipwrecks on Sable Island over the past few hundred years due to violent ocean storms and fog. Sable Island is sometimes called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” for this reason. But the horses did not arrive this way.

Most evidence that we have today tells us that these horses are actually descendants of animals taken from the Acadians during the Great Expulsion in the mid-1700s and brought to Sable Island by a Boston merchant. He attempted to establish a farming settlement but was unsuccessful. The horses were left behind and continued to breed and thrive. Because the present-day horses are descendants of domesticated animals, it is much more accurate to say they are “feral” horses rather than “wild”.

Sable Horses

In the past, some of these horses would be rounded up and shipped off the island to be sold or used in Cape Breton coal mines. In 1962, the Canadian government gave full protection to the horse population from human interference. Now they are free to gallop the dunes and roam the seashore. What a wonderful place!

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