Today was supposed to be the only sunny day of the week, so I knew I had to make the most of every minute. I headed out to Lake Wallace in the hopes of getting a nice sunrise reflection. Lake Wallace is mentioned frequently in the history of Sable Island and it was the sight of a major settlement in the 1800’s. When a large storm caused the ocean to breach the dunes isolating it from the salt water several ships took advantage and sailed into the lake to unload their cargo. The next night another storm closed the lake back in, trapping three American ships. The lake was not breached again and the ships had to be dismantled and rebuilt. Standing on the edge of what was now a very shallow lake, it was hard to imagine it as the location of a thriving establishment. All that remained were a few remnants of the telegraph poles used long ago.
The sunrise provided a beautiful display of colour and as the light increased a small band of horses became visible walking towards me on the edge of the lake. What an opportunity! Still unsure of how nervous they would be of my presence I decided to move over towards the dunes to see if they would pass between me and the lake. I talked quietly so that they would be aware of me, and squatted down in the sand to appear non-threatening. The band of 5 (brown stallion, bay mare, colt and two youths) casually walked over and then after a brief pause, one of the two year olds walked right up and started to sniff my face. I blew softly on his nose, something I often do with horses at home, and he responded by curling his lip with his nose in the air. As would become a common pattern, it wasn’t about getting close enough to the horses but rather keeping them from getting too close for photos. Otherwise, I was completely comfortable with this closeness. After 30 years of training horses I was pretty astute at determining their body language and it was clear to me that many of the horses here did not fear humans at all.
The rest of the herd gathered around me and when they decided that I was not terribly interesting they wandered off at a slow walk down the south beach towards main station. One of the foals stopped to scratch his body on a piece of pipe sticking out of the sand. You could tell from all the tracks around this little post that it was a favorite scratching place. He scratched for a few minutes and then took of at a gallop to catch up with his disappearing family. I laughed quietly to myself and then hoisted my pack of gear back up and followed at a distance towards the west ponds.
This time I found a family that appeared to be headed by a liver chestnut stallion. They were grazing around the ponds, some were splashing about in the water and some were rolling in the sand. Gerry’s description that all the occupants of the island (human, horse and seal) were very spoiled, was beginning to be apparent. With no predators to worry about their only concern was the harsh weather in the winter. The stallion was particularly friendly and curious, so much so that he was quite a menace about getting into my gear. He thought my tripod was a nice idea for a scratching post and proceeded to test it out with his chin. Of course the tripod would not support this type of treatment and when it fell over he spooked a little but came right back to play with it again. I had to dive in and rescue it before it become a play toy for the herd, as several had gathered with interest. Since there were no trees on the island that meant precious few places to scratch on. Anything was fair game to rub on and it was clear why the buildings and equipment were fenced to keep the horses out. The precious few pieces of driftwood and remnants of old buildings and ships were all there was to serve this use.
Walking further towards West Light introduced me to another small herd. The band leader was a gorgeous black stallion with a large white blaze. He had a lot of quality and a truly beautiful topline. He had gotten distracted by the presence of some other horses and had gone over to investigate them. After a little encounter with some squealing and posturing he realized that his small family had wandered away. He whinnied in concern and galloped straight through the pond to rejoin his harem. If he did not take care they could become the property of any one of the other band leaders. His offspring were dominated by mainly dark brown or black foals and youngsters. I had a hard time telling which of horses were yearlings or two year olds as their sizes varied a great deal. One thing was certain, the diversity of the gene pool was well intact. There were approximately 400 horses on the island and they ranged dramatically in their size, quality and particularly head type. Some had Roman (convex) noses, others had dished, almost Arab-like profiles, while others were straight. Some had beautiful top-lines ( curved from ears to tail) and others had ugly ewed or upside down necks. Lighter noses known as ‘mealy’ were a common trait. There were no greys or horses of colour (i.e. pinto) as they had been culled out decades ago as ‘undesirable’.
The afternoon was spent following the older chestnut stallion and his band. For reference sake I called this horse Beachcomber. After the herd had filled themselves grazing they made their way down to a sheltered area of the beach for rest. One by one they all lay down in the sand. The stallion was the last to go down once he was convinced that his band was settled. The horses snored peacefully in the afternoon sun, Darren and I, thankful to stop the arduous task of following horses around with heavy gear in deep sand, settled in along with them. The sun was very high and bright, the light harsh, but it was a precious moment none the less. It was an opportunity to compose interesting images of horses at rest and to feel for the first time on the island, unhurried. I was beginning to understand the rhythm of life on Sable.