Most Canadian horse people know of, and admire, the wild horses that roam Sable Island, but few of us will ever see one in person. Access to the island is strictly controlled by the Canadian government and except for the four or five humans who travel there for research purposes, it’s off-limits to tourists. This isolation has resulted in the preservation of not only the 500 or so wild horses who populate the island, but also its vast and varied ecosystem that thrives undisturbed.
But horse lovers around the world can now get an intimate glimpse into the horse’s lives thanks to Wild, a new fine-art coffee-table art book by internationally-renowned photographer Drew Doggett.
Doggett worked in the fashion industry for more than six years with such heavy hitters as Mark Seliger and Steven Klein. During this time Doggett got to be on set with the likes of Madonna and former U.S. President Barack Obama. But he was drawn to the idea of using images to document the natural world, far from the lights and glamour of the fashion business. His work spans landscapes, sea and desert and can be viewed here where you can buy fine art prints from his travels as well as other books. His Sable Island project, Wild, features over 110 large-scale pages from his best-selling and award-winning limited-edition print series.
Doggett was granted access by the Canadian government to spend time on Sable Island. His arrival was met by heavy rain and fog combined with a rugged landscape, which resulted in Doggett walking hours throughout the terrain to encounter a single horse. Undeterred, he spent a total of 70 days enduring and embracing the island’s extreme weather conditions, unobstructed beaches and sloping dunes. Wild is the result.
Then in 2019, the photographer was granted rare permission by Parks Canada to survey the island via drone, resulting in the first-of-its-kind aerial footage. As a result, his series of images remains one of the most comprehensive collections of photographs and film footage of the island in existence.
In addition to the fine art prints and book, Drew used this content to create a short film named after the collection giving viewers the opportunity to soar high above Sable Island and experience the wild horses in the first-ever aerial short film captured by drone:
Wild is available on DrewDoggett.com and Amazon for $121.50
Horse-Canada.com had a conversation with Drew Doggett about his latest book. Here’s what he had to say about his experience; the interview has been edited for space and clarity.
HORSE CANADA: How did you discover the Sable Island ponies? And what inspired you to document them over such a long period?
DREW DOGGETT: When I left the fashion photography world and began my career as a fine art photographer, I knew I wanted to photograph wild animals. I also had a deep admiration for horses for as long as I can remember, plus I knew I wanted my subjects to embody the most unique aspects of their species. I like animals that feel mythological ‒ and wild horses tend to always feel as if they are magic and surreal.
As I began my research, I realized that Sable Island’s horses felt like the perfect mix of beauty and wildness. Nearly a decade later and I’ve spent countless hours creating my work featuring all the wild horses there as well as traveling to the island during different times of the year and using different modes of documentation to create the most comprehensive look at the island. Life on the island and the horse’s relationship with their home is, on the surface, simple, but to completely capture the essence of this unbelievable dynamic requires a perspective that only time on Sable can provide.
HC: What were the challenges in photographing the ponies? And how does that compare to fashion shoots?
DD: The biggest challenge is my desire to capture images that wholly encapsulate the wild nature of the animals and their home as one. In a fashion photography setting, you can control all the variables from the lighting to the position of the model. However, Sable presents a whole new set of challenges mostly because of what you cannot control. Yet, out of this set of unexpected variables, comes the thrill of finally capturing the image you have in mind.
Since I’ve spent so much time on the island, I’ve grown to know where to best maximize my chances of getting the shot I desire. I also can anticipate a bit of the horses’ behavior that I’ve learned from sitting and watching them day in and day out. One thing is certain ‒ I always have my camera at the ready because you never know what may happen next!
HC: What did you learn about the wild ponies that was unexpected or surprising?
DD: Perhaps the most surprising and unexpected aspect of the Sable Island horses are their personalities. Originally, I had expected them to be afraid of me and to run away, yet they are not scared of humans since they have no reason to be. Instead, they are incredibly curious ‒ especially the young foals.
One of my favorite ways to spend time on the island is to sit amongst the horses and study their movements and characteristics. You can see the intricacies of their family social dynamics play out in real-time, and it’s in these moments that you recognize just how extraordinary they truly are.
HC: How did the Jane Goodall introduction come about?
DD: When it came time to think about who my dream foreword writer would be, Dr. Goodall was at the very top of the list. When she responded that she would love to contribute I was elated. I can’t imagine what her time was like in Tanzania as one of the first people to extensively study the chimps, and as Sable Island is one of the last remaining untouched bastions of ecology, I know that she easily understood its importance. It was beyond an honor to have her lend her indomitable spirit and words to this book.
HC: What do you want readers to take away from the book about the ponies or conservation ‒ or anything else?
DD: I want readers to understand that the Sable Island horses represent an anomaly in the world of wild animals. Because they are so far from the grasps of humans, they can remain untouched and perfectly preserved in their home. The more we acknowledge how special this is, the more we can learn to appreciate not just the wildness of Sable Island, but wild animals around the world.
I also think we can learn a lot from their will to survive. These horses had to adapt and learn to live in a place man has failed to conquer ‒ that alone is a lesson in patience and resilience.