“Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us.” ~ Virginia Woolf
Their existence stirs our imagination. We feel their energy and their pure, unbridled spirit. To spend time with wild horses is to reach deep into your own soul and find your own freedom, whatever that may be.
Like so many others, my first wild horse experience had a profound effect on me. I was in my twenties, spending a lazy summer afternoon in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains.
With my trail horse grazing contentedly beside me, I was lying in an alpine meadow, enjoying a beautiful summer afternoon in the mountain wilderness.
Suddenly the earth shook. A herd of wild horses thundered past, manes flying, kicking up dust, and in an instant they had disappeared.
I didn’t know that wild horses still existed. But I did know that those few seconds with wild horses were a gift that would change my life forever.
I have since traveled thousands of miles to find wild horses and to share their stories. From New Zealand to Mongolia and throughout North America, the stories behind the wild horses vary greatly, and along the way I have met incredible people who care deeply about these free spirits.
In many areas of the world, wild horses are subject to roundups and an uncertain future under the heavy hand of mankind.
I have always believed that they best way to protect wild horses is to experience wild horses. Once you’ve felt the rush from a herd of wild horses galloping through a desert or mountain pass, or charging over a grassy dune by the sea, you will be forever hooked. And you will likely add your voice to their protection.
Canada has become one of the top destinations for adventurers to experience wild horses.
Ninety minutes north of Calgary in western Canada, the small town of Sundre (population 2,729) is considered the gateway to Alberta’s Rocky Mountain foothills, home to wild horses that have survived for over two and a half centuries. Affectionately known as “Alberta Wildies,” these are thick-bodied horses that are adept at handling the Canadian climate.
In winter, the wild horses dig through snow for forage. Alberta Wildies are headstrong, powerful, and beautiful, with colors ranging from bay, black, and palomino to buckskin, grey, and some of the most spectacular roans I have ever seen. They can be seen in alpine meadows, forests, or boggy areas, and they share their wilderness home with moose, elk, deer, foxes, bears, and wolves.
In springtime, the new leggy foals jump and play in meadows filled with alpine flowers, the mares and band stallion keeping a close watch nearby.
Also keeping a close watch is the local advocate group Help Alberta Wildies Society, a dedicated team that fiercely protects the wild horses. Through their efforts, there has not been a roundup of Alberta Wildies since 2014, when the exercise was met with camping protesters and nationwide anger. The wild horses of Alberta have earned their place as one of the star attractions in this pristine western wilderness.
In eastern Canada, there exists a place that doesn’t seem real. It’s called Sable Island. Located over 100 miles off mainland Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Ocean, Sable Island National Park Reserve is a crescent-shaped island that is 42 kilometers long and 1.4 kilometers wide. It is an irresistible dream for a nature lover.
Sand dunes shelter the island’s interior where grassy fields and freshwater ponds teem with life. Grey seals laze on the beaches and frolic in the surf. Over 350 species of birds have been recorded here. But for the few visitors fortunate enough to visit the island each summer, the wild horses are the star attraction. They have survived here since the late 1700s, descendants of domestic horses brought to the island to haul supplies for construction of a lifesaving station.
The wild horses of Sable Island are smallish, between 13 and 14 hands, stocky, with thick bodies, small ears, and low-set tails. They are bay, brown, chestnut, or palomino, with long manes that knot and tangle and lift to the sky in the ocean breeze.
The wild horses have no reason to fear humans. And we have no reason to fear for the horses, as they are 100 percent protected by the Canadian government—one of the few wild horse populations in the world guided only by mother nature.
The surf, the sand, the sea, and the wild horses of Sable Island. Pure magic.
“It is far better to experience a place just once than to hear about it a thousand times” - Mongolian saying
I am honoured to be a photographic guide for Alberta Wildies and the wild horses of Sable Island. If you would like information about possibilities, please email me, [email protected]
For details about a unique Alberta wilderness horse retreat May 31st to June 6th 2020, click here: https://www.sandysharkey.com/blog/2020/2/1/alberta-wilderness-horse-retreat
To see more images or to purchase wild horse prints, please see www.sandysharkey.com
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Horse Courses by Elaine Heney
- Listening to the Horse - The Documentary by Elaine Heney & Grey Pony Films
- Shoulder In & Out Training for better balance, bend & topline development with your horse
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- Dancing at Liberty & Creating Connection with Your Horse (11 lessons) - Grey Pony Films
All photos taken by Sandy Sharkey and included with her permission.