Face to Face

Artist and horse An artist and a horse on Sable Island in August 2009 —
watercolour sketch © Liza Hageraats 2009

As we approach the island from the air, I am struck by the graceful pirouettes of the greys seals in the turquoise waters off South Beach, in sharp contrast with their heavy bodied brethren on land. Then the first distinct glimpses of horses poised on the crests of dunes. This sandy crescent on the Scotian Shelf is a protected home for two disparate species and they were the focus of my interest in the island. From the legless to the statuesque, they form an unusual community. Walking past Lake Wallace one late afternoon, I observed a band of young stallions who first approached me with interest and then wandered off to tease a small group of harbour seals. There was no meanness in their approach, simply youthful high spirits.

On our orientation walk with Zoe we were immediately approached by a young stallion, gleefully prancing towards us, salt and sun bleached mane tossed on his dark chestnut neck. It was the perfect welcome and Zoe reassured us that they would not be aggressive towards us. Given the go ahead to wander at will, keeping in mind some basic environmental concerns, left us the freedom to explore as much of the island as our feet would allow. I soon came across the deflated carcass of a horse which was in sharp contrast to our virile greeter. Bared teeth and bleached exposed ribs poking through the coarse curly hair, was a reminder that although protected, nothing escapes mortality.

But this image was soon replaced by many others that celebrated the life force on Sable. The freshwater ponds were a haven where we observed mares lustfully mounted, the stilt-like teeter of young foals of spindly legs, suckling at it's mother's teat, the challenge of yearlings in search of a mate. Imagine harbour seals glinting like warm European silver in the lowering sun on North Beach, their limpid eyes keeping track of your every move. We were fortunate to see meteor showers amidst a sky so full of stars as to make it almost impossible to distinguish constellations. I often observed the cooperative grooming of a pair of horses in a landscape that has few scotching posts or curry combs to thin one's winter coat. Was amused by the arguments that erupted in the colony of grey seals as one shifts, creating a domino affect right down the long line, while the pups lie apart from the group, exhausted from their arduous trip from the water. Knew I was privileged to have an equine critic blow softly at my painting—face to face with me—as he judged my endeavour.

Liza Hageraats, September 2009