The Horses of Sable Island

I acquired The Horses of Sable Island by Barbara J. Christie as a library discard. It is the first edition from 1980 and had been rebound. I am including a scan of the boring cover of the actual copy I had read, plus a copy of the original cover. A slight book of 93 pages, it would surely have been twice as long if it was printed in a standard-size font. This book dispelled the myths about these horses, the main one being that they swam ashore after shipwrecks:

“Another theory which has been considered is that horses swimming ashore from Spanish shipwrecks were the tap root of the modern herd. Although storms at sea can force vessels hundreds of miles off course, the general areas of Spanish exploration and settlement lay far to the north. It seems unlikely that Spain would have lost anything but fishing vessels at such northerly latitudes. There is no evidence that either Spanish or Portuguese fishermen put horses on the Island.”

Sable Island is nicknamed the Graveyard of the Atlantic for good reason. I have a map of the crescent island and radiating from it like spokes on a wheel are all the known shipwrecks. Survivors owe their lives to these horses, who were always put into action to pull people and cargo from doomed vessels. The island was settled and animals introduced, not just horses, but cows, pigs, ducks and goats. Only the horses have remained. Christie included the records of fastidious island superintendents who took obsessive care in their fauna documentation. She managed to make equine genealogy an interesting read, revealing the provenance of some notable horses introduced to Sable for breeding purposes.

I found this a valuable read about Sable Island history as well, with stories of the earliest explorations by Europeans. We learned that there were multiple times when there were no horses on the island, yet firm documentation didn’t start until the early nineteenth century. For a book with such small print and covering a topic I would ordinarily not find interesting, I commend the author for making this a can’t-put-down read. I am only giving it four stars out of five because of its spelling errors, which were too numerous to overlook. While I can on a good day consciously turn a blind eye to a typo or two, I cannot reconcile the author jumping back and forth between superintendent and superintendant [sic]. Also, her within-the-text citation notations made for awkward reading when simple footnotes would do. Nevertheless I was impressed by Christie’s research and am actively seeking out other books on Sable Island and its horses.

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