SI2023 – A-1 – Beyond Compare: Sable Island Horses and What Makes Them So Unique – Abbie Branchflower

Organization: Friends of Sable Island Society

Theme: Natural Science/History; Park Management

Format: Oral presentation

The Sable Island Horses evoke strong reactions from new audiences. Some respond in awe, enamoured with the idea of wild horses on a beach, others immediately express concern and dismay that the horses receive no aid from humans. Still others strongly oppose the population, dismissing them as invasive and arguing for their removal.

The horses on Sable Island occupy a unique ecological, and cultural, niche. Nowhere else on earth is there a population of equids protected by law and living free of interference by humans while uninfluenced by the risk of predators. Likewise, no others survive, and thrive, on a simple sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sable Island’s horses received protected status as a naturalised species in 1962. When the island became a National Park, Parks Canada took on management with the understanding that the horses were to be treated as protected wildlife. In other words, left alone. This lack of interference is the polar opposite of how free-roaming horses are treated elsewhere in the world.

This presentation will explore what makes the Sable Island Horses unique – both as a population and with respect to their protected status – and compare them to other free-roaming horse populations world-wide including the Alberta wildies, Yukon wild horses, American mustangs and Australian brumbies. It will explore the history of the horses’ protection, what this means for their welfare and how it impacts our relationship to this special population of horses.

Abbie Branchflower is the Director of Education for the Friends of Sable Island Society. She grew up fascinated and inspired by nature and, as a born horselover, with a deep rooted interest in wild horses. Abbie joined the Board in 2020 after spending years scouring books and the internet for information on Sable Island and its famous horses. She was delighted to make her first trip to the island in 2021 and hopes to one day return. Abbie has a MSc in Animal Behaviour and Welfare, with a focus on wildlife ecology.