Bastedo, J. & S. Tooke. 2007. Free as the Wind – Saving the Horses of Sable Island. Red Deer Press, 1512, 1800 – 4 Street SW, Calgary Alberta T2S 2S5. 32 pages. (Illustrated by Susan Tooke, with text by Jamie Bastedo).

Book Review:  “Free as the Wind”

Wild and free the horses of Sable gallop over the sand dunes of their Island home—that strange and lonely island, lying almost 300 kilometres off the coast of nova Scotia. No one knows, for sure, how the first horses arrived there, but through centuries they have lived out their natural lives, with no predator, except man.

More than once, through the years, numbers of the wild creatures were captured and taken to the mainland, to be used for various purposes. Most cruel of all, some were forced to work in the deep, dark coal mines of Cape Breton. And once, in the middle of the last century, all the Sable horses were condemned to total extinction.

Government officials, visiting the Island, had found skulls and bones of horses scattered about and reported that the isolated animals were dying of starvation and ordered that some might be rescued but most should be put out of their misery at once. It was suggested that the meat could be used for dog food.

How this was prevented, by the action of Canadian children, is the basis of a fictional story published by RED DEER PRESS. The tale is told by Jamie Bastedo, and the book is beautifully illustrated by Susan Tooke, of Halifax.

Susan Tooke is a gifted artist and her cover picture is eye-catching. Here is a fine portrait of Gem, the stallion featured in Bastedo’s tale. A foal gambols nearby and in the background another manifestation of Gem stands atop a grassy dune. Already one feels the wonder and charm of Sable Island and its horses.

Inside, other great paintings tell us more of the story. One shows us the boy, Lucas, walking down the hill to his home. We see the lovely panorama of the rolling dunes and the far, blue ocean. White gulls soar overhead. We can almost feel the breeze and smell of the salt air. Wild strawberries bloom in the grasses and a sparrow sits guard by her nest, with its clutch of brown speckled eggs. It is a sweet and peaceful scene.

But there is a dark, symbolic image in the left foreground, warning of trouble to come. The sparrow’s mate perches on the nearby partly decomposed head of a dead horse. On the next page Lucas and his little sister learn the sad news that they and the horses must leave their Island home, forever.

“Free as the Wind” is a book that many children will want to own themselves and it is a great book for the classroom. It can be used in many ways, perhaps best of all to show that children are people and when people band together their voices can be heard. They can “make a difference.” Sometimes people in high places make mistakes by not doing enough careful research before making important decisions.

“Free as the Wind” can also lead to studies of the many endangered wild creatures in the world of today. Teachers can help children think of ways they can make a difference. It can lead to a discussion of wild animals being captured and treated as pets, or put into zoos.

The last painting in the book shows a joyous Gem galloping through the surf of Sable Island, with Lucas and his dog following happily after. Is it true that the wild horses of Sable will live free as the wind forever? This book, with its inspiring images, leads us to hope so.

Prepared for the Sable Island Green Horse Society
By Joyce Barkhouse © May 2007