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Sable Island Horses

"Small in stature, but mighty in spirit." The famous Sable Island Horses descended from livestock Thomas Hancock of Boston sent to the Island in 1760. It is thought that Hancock helped himself to horses belonging to the deported Acadians, horses he was paid to transport to the American colonies.

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.

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.

Other than on Sable Island, Nova Scotia's wildlife parks are the only other place in the world where a person can see these sturdy little horses. In 1960, the Federal Crown Assets Disposal Corporation put these horses up for sale. It was believed they were stunted due to inbreeding and lack of food. The horses were to be taken off Sable Island before they starved to death and used for something functional, such as dog food or glue.

Many children wrote to then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who intervened and protected the horses from all human interference. Today, the Sable Island Horses are still protected by the Sable Island Regulations, which fall under the Canada Shipping Act.

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