I saw a very striking photo on FaceBook the other day. I’ll show it to you. It was taken by famous fashion photographer, Roberto Dutesco. I love the idea that a fashion photographer is shooting horses. It gives them the glamor and va-va-vavoom they deserve! OK, here is the pic (SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM IF YOU WANT TO SEE MORE…):
Now, as I dug deeper, I was a bit amazed by the many stories behind the Sable Island Horses… I’ll fill you in.
First off, this is where the horses live – Sable Island. Can you find it on the map? Look to the right corner and you will see a crescent shaped little wisp of land. That’s it. The Sable Island is approximately (and I say ‘approximately’ because the sea is constantly eroding one end while building up sand on the other…) 26 miles long and at the widest point, 1 mile across. There are approximately 8320 acres in total – smaller than many ranches in the US.
You cannot get there easily. It is 190 miles off of Halifax, Nova Scotia. One must call ahead and find out if the airstrip is solid on that particular day or if perhaps, the airstrip is underwater… One could use the helipad which is more reliable but really, no one goes there unless the Canadian Coast Guard says it is OK. And, they rarely do.
You see, Sable Island is now protected by the Canadian Government. All the animals and wildlife are free to be however they wish to be, without human intervention.
Yes, there are humans on the island. Usually 6 at a time. They live in the housing provided by the Canadian Coast Guard and they work at the weather station or the life station (or both).
The Sable Island horses are often called ponies because they are small. But, they aren’t ponies. They are small, hearty little horses often described as:
“The horses that remain on Sable Island are feral, but in the past, those exported to the mainland were tamed to ride, and said to be excellent, tough and enduring, and able to travel with ease on any terrain. Present day horses are all very hardy and thrive in an inhospitable environment. The herds are not managed, nor subject to human interference and so exhibit a range of characteristics. In general, they have nice heads with a straight or convex profile and are short, stocky and muscular in frame. Tails are low-set and shaggy. Their coats are mostly dark colors, but some do exhibit white markings. About half are bays with the rest evenly distributed between chestnut, black and palomino. There are no grays.”
HOW DID THE HORSES GET THERE?
Most people feel the horses arrived on any of the many shipwrecks but there is also record of horses being brought there as a method of transportation in the 1800s and early 1900s.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THESE HORSES IS…
These horses are not managed by humans. And y’know, they are doing just fine. There are approximately 300 of them in bands of about 40-50 herds. They eat, breed, play and die there naturally. Hmmmmm. They sustain themselves.
It wasn’t always that way. Before 1960, occasionally humans would cull the herds and bring the horses to the mainland to work in the mines (poor guys, always the mines for little horses…). But, the Canadian government put a stop to that in 1960 and now no human can disturb them or any of the other animals on the island.
Here is an excerpt explaining:
There are a number of other populations of free-ranging horses found throughout the world, some on islands, some in inland regions. Other island horses include those on the barrier islands of Assateague and Shackleford, both off the east coast of the USA. Most populations of wild horses consist of feral animals (i.e. domesticated animals that have returned to the wild). Such horses are wild in the sense that they are generally free to roam as they please, to form various social organizations, to reproduce, and to forage for their own food and water, and to survive or succumb to disease, weather and predators. However, many of these free-ranging populations are exposed to some form of interference by people – fertility control, culling, round-ups, adoption programs etc. The Sable Island horses are among the few wild horse populations that are entirely unmanaged: they are not subject to any kind of interference. Since 1961, the Sable Island horses have had legal protection under the Sable Island Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act.
Uhhhh, not great. It has been described as uninhabitable but that isn’t true. It has some extremes but it is habitable.
Sable Island’s climate can be classified as either oceanic or humid continental. There are frequent heavy fogs in the area due to the contrasting effects of the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream: on average there are 127 days out of the year that have at least 1 hour of fog. During winter months, the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream can sometimes give Sable Island the warmest temperatures in Canada. On the other hand, it snow there, too.
The island is continually changing its shape with the effects of strong winds and violent ocean storms including hurricanes and northeasters, have caused over 350 recorded shipwrecks.
The island has several freshwater ponds on the south side between the weather station and west light and a brackish lake named Lake Wallace near its center.
It has water and it has grass. It also has lots of sand, wind, fog, rain, storms, heat and chill factors. Yet, the horses manage. Oh yeah, no trees. The humans planted many, many trees but they all died.
Here is a link to a man who has taken several wonderful photos that really help visualize the island and its inhabitants.
The people on the island (Canadian Coast Guard employees) have lots of time to watch the animals – the horses in particular… Because the horses are not threatened by the people and vice versa, they co-exist very comfortably. The islanders have even come to name the horses and chronicle the newborns. Here is their website where you can go to several pages dedicated with information about the Island. They have listed pages about the foals and observations they’ve made about the nature and activity of the herds.
As an aside, I found it interesting that the Sable Island has a 100% turnout of voters. Yup. All 6 voter pamphlets are filled out routinely and sent back with the designated pilot. Oh, and only 2 people have ever been born on the island.
THE OTHER ANIMALS ON THE ISLAND
The horses aren’t alone in their lifestyle on Sable Island. They are joined by Arctic and Roseate Terns, gulls, sandpipers, plovers (a bird which resembles a sandpiper), black ducks and mergansers also call Sable home. Sable Island is the only known breeding ground for the rare Ipswich Sparrow.
The birds are protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act and by Canada’s Federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary Regulations and live undisturbed on the island.
Joining the birds and the horses at Sable is the world’s largest group of breeding Grey Seals and a small group of Harbour Seals. The seals feed on the large numbers of fish, which fill the waters around the island. The Federal Fisheries Act protects both the fish and the seals.
CELEBRITY HORSES AND THE AMAZING PHOTOGRAPHY OF ROBERTO DUTESCO
The whole reason I found out about the Sable Island horses (and probably how you found out about them if you know about them already) is through one man. One man has fixated and created incredible photographs of these Sable Island Horses. (I need to share many with you.)
You just never know how a person or a being is discovered and made into a celebrity… For Lana Turner, the old story goes that she was discovered sitting at the counter at Schwab’s Ice Cream Parlor. For the Sable Island Horses, it was Roberto Dutesco.
Roberto is the high fashion photographer I mentioned in the first paragraph who took the photo that grabbed my attention.
For Roberto, his obsession began one day when he happened to see an image of a horse from the Sable Island. The photo so inspired Dutesco that the couldn’t get it out of his mind. He made his decision right there and then to figure out a way to go to the Sable Islands and photograph those horses.
Well, as you can surmise, this was no easy feat. But, he managed passage and Dutesco has ventured to Sable Island three time since 1994. Out of these adventures, Dutesco has become completely devoted to these horses and their natural, unfettered environment. He has become a proponent of Green living and natural habitats. In fact, if you google his name, you will find beautiful web pages devoted to the environment. Here is a link to one of his many gorgeous, of course, websites.
The ‘celebrity’ part for these horses is really interesting… since Roberto is a fashion photographer, his beautiful images of the horses gained fame and momentum. Using new techniques in photographic printing, Roberto was able to create larger and larger images – some larger than life… These incredible images of the Sable Island Horses have appeared in the windows of Sony on Madison Avenue, at the United Nations, in Lord & Taylors, at the Ralph Lauren Mansion and Estate, on 3 city blocks of Montreal, 125 large images were displayed in SoHo, and the most recent, huge 40′ long images erected in the gardens of the Long House Reserve in East Hampton…
Here is a link to Roberto’s website with many of his photos.
Oh, and his images inspired a movie for Bravo called, “Chasing Wild Horses“. An excerpt is linked to the photo below.
Not bad for one guy on a mission, eh? Single handedly, this one man has shined a big ol’ mega watt on these incredibly hearty animals.
Roberto’s Gallery information:
Address: 13 Crosby Street, New York, NY, 10013
Monday: By Appointment Only, Phone: 212.219.9622
What else impressed me on his website is the idea of creating kindergartens to help educate kids on nature, horses and being green. Here is an excerpt from their mission statement:
The Wild Horses of Sable Island Mobile Project, aims to inspire tomorrow’s leaders in emerging and developing countries about the importance of natural habitats and conservation. Our goal is to establish a network of Sable Island Kindergartens where children will be introduced the incredible story of the Wild Horses of Sable Island, through film, photography and storytelling.
ROBERTO SPEAKS ABOUT THE HORSES
I wanted to share a few quotes from Roberto about the horses. I just think his sensibility is so touching and that shows in all of his photos…
“Whether shooting supermodels, rocks, flowers in a vase, or wild horses, I try to imagine what my subject might be feeling and to portray that emotion in my images.”
Dutesco points out, “It would seem, in their own way, that the horses are teaching us something about our destructive nature, as neighbors and co-inhabitants of this earth. We become the “wild animals” when placed next to these seemingly mindful creatures.”
Written about Roberto:
As he finished his shoot in the weak light of an autumn afternoon and prepared to return to the base camp for the last time, he sensed that he was in the presence of the shadowy forms of several members of the island herd. One young horse stepped forward and placed his face against the photographer’s temple. They stood mane to mane, cheek to cheek, as Dutesco felt heat and musk radiate from his equine companion and saw the fading light of day reflected in the large eye so close to his own. They remained like that, transfixed, for several minutes, until the horse finally ambled back to the herd. The departing photographer’s sense was that he had been delivered a message:
“We’ll be fine without you, my friend. We are at peace in our world. Go find a way to be at peace in yours.”
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