North Carolina July 01, 2017
2 Magical Places In North Carolina To Find Wild Horses This Summer
Few things inspire and represent freedom, adventure and mystique quite like wild horses. From going where the wind takes them, to traveling with the herd – there’s something wild horses symbolize unlike anything else. In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, these majestic creatures can be found roaming the shoreline, taking a dip in the ocean and even sunbathing or meandering through tall, coastal grass. Left here 500 years ago by Spanish explorers, these wild mustangs have learned to adapt and exist within the harsh coastal landscape, eventually making it their home.
1. Shackleford Banks
Only accessible by boat or ferry, a 15-minute journey from the Crystal Coast to Shackleford Banks will transport you to an entirely different world. Wild horses, crystal clear water, no running water or electricity; you might've stepped into Narnia, but this slice of paradise is a popular spot for adventurers and the curious.
As the southern-most barrier island in Cape Lookout National Seashore, Shackleford Banks is home to over 100 wild horses. Besides other Outer Banks locations, Shackleford Banks is one of the few places in the Eastern U.S. where the horses can still be seen. The nine-mile island mirrors many environmental aspects other barrier islands are known for, surprisingly providing a perfect refuge for the horses.
They thrive off natural food sources present on the island like spartina marsh, island grass and sea oats (uniola). One interesting aspect is while fresh or brackish water is available in various ponds - the horses will also dig holes and wait for the water to seep up. It seems generations of inventive techniques for surviving along this coastal stretch have been passed down.
Speaking of generations, there's some serious horse social dynamics going on too. Some photographers even take it upon themselves (or accidentally form a bond) to keep up with hierarchies, fights, break ups and makeups that occur within the horse community. The 'herd' divides itself into 25 harems and 7 bachelor 'bands.' Each dominant 'alpha' guides his harem and the young. While visiting, if you see a group of horses this could indeed be what you're witnessing. The interesting horse dynamics have attracted both animal lovers, conservationists and as mentioned above - photographers. While the horses live entirely free, there is some minor management among the herds and the horses are protected under Federal legislation. It's asked that visitors do not approach or feed the horses - just simply view from afar.
2. Northern Outer Banks
This remote, rugged stretch of beach might've been untouchable for hundreds of years - but a certain group of four-legged Europeans found a way to call it their forever home. The original residents of upper Currituck County, the wild Spanish mustangs were left stranded here but remained resilient. Today, they can be found in Corolla and Carova.
Just like their Shackleford Banks counterpart, they've learned to live off the environment finding food, water and resources wherever they can. Unlike the horses of Shackeford Banks, they weren't so lucky to bypass one deadly aspect - humans.
If it was up to these mustangs - Corolla could have very well been 'horse utopia.' At one point, almost 1,000 wild horses called it home. Yet, once the people came, other things came with them - development, roads and cars. With the completion of NC HWY12, cars speeding along the road instantly put the horses at risk. Between cars hitting horses, population growth and massive development - the population of 1,000 horses soon dwindled to 100. Knowing this was more their home than ours, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund was set up to help save and increase the population.
Today, horses and their herds are closely monitored. Mares receive a 'darted contraception' shot to help them live longer once they're no longer giving birth. While sometimes a beachside sunbather might be treated to the sight of wild horses on the beach - other times they're a bit more elusive. If it's your first time searching for wild horses on the Northern OBX you might want to let the pros navigate once gravel becomes sand.
There's a number of different four wheel drive, off road adventure tours offered. Drivers have the vehicles and knowledge to drive you out to some of the most remote stretches of beach where the wild horses roam. It's the best option for first time horse-seekers. Shackleford Banks to Corolla - there's something beyond enchanting about this wild and free species who decided that beach bum life is the best life (can you really blame them).
There’s something about North Carolina’s wild horses that will never get old to me, it’s such a magical aspect to our state! Have you seen the wild horses before? Any stories to share?
If you’re planning to travel north to Carova and get a glimpse at the wild horses – make a whole weekend out of it with
our guide here.