Wild Horses of the Outer Banks: Everything You Need to Know
The Colonial Spanish Mustangs of the Outer Banks are a national treasure. In fact, they are revered as the North Carolina State Horse. These hardy little horses are famous for weathering harsh conditions, hurricanes, storms, and a growing human presence on the Outer Banks.
Here we will tell you everything you need to know about our favorite neighhh-bors here at Great Escapes, OBX!
Where did these horses come from?
The DNA tests are in and it's official: our beautiful Corolla horses are derived directly from Spanish stock from the 16th century. How they arrived on the Outer Banks is a long and complicated story (read it here), but it's most likely that they are the living remnants of our nation's early colonization. A combination of trade, lost goods, sunken ships and bloody battles for land left livestock (and equines) stranded here. Only the strongest would survive.
The Spanish Mustang Registry is satisfied that the Banker Horses, in particular the Corolla strain, are as lineally pure to the 16th century Spanish importations as can be found in North America today, and that they compare closely to the selectively bred South American Spanish derivative stock.- Corolla Wild Horse Fund
How can I see them?
The Spanish Mustangs of Corolla roam over 7,500 protected acres on the Currituck Banks. The 4WD beach is located in Carova, which is just north of Corolla. If you want to see the horses live and in person, there are three ways to do so:
1. Drive your 4x4 vehicle
If you own a 4-wheel drive vehicle that can handle the beach (meaning, it has the proper off-road ground clearance and reduced tire pressure), you can drive up the beach from Corolla (where Highway NC 12 ends at the horse fence).
Be sure to read all rules and regulations before you drive your 4x4 on the beach!
2. Rent a 4x4 vehicle
If your minivan isn't quite up to the task, but you would rather explore the 4x4 area on your own, consider renting a 4x4. Here is a company that will allow you to rent a jeep, use unlimited miles, they have the proper off-road permits, beach-ready tires, and they clean the Jeep when you get back so you don't have to.
- Outer Banks Jeep Rentals (Kill Devil Hills)
3. Take a tour with a company
Horse tour companies are plentiful and ready to take you on an off-road tour to spot the Mustangs. These tour guides know the best spots to see horses and can give you some history (and answer your questions) along the way.
Each company has its own vibe and even the vehicles vary, from jeeps to safari-type vans. Read reviews and choose the one that best fits your crew.
Click here to see a list of Corolla Wild Horse Tour companies.
Can I touch the ponies?
Please view the horses from a respectable distance and encourage others to do the same.
If you observe an injured horse, please call the Corolla Wild Horse Fund at 252-453-8002.
What do they eat?
While it's true that these tough little horses have survived hurricanes, humans and more, they have a surprisingly delicate digestive system. Over the years they have adapted to consume only native plants and grasses, including sea oats, coarse grasses, acorns, and persimmons. Absolutely no supplemental feeding is provided by any organization. The Corolla Horse Fund reports that several horses have actually died from being fed by well-intentioned humans. Even apples or carrots could hurt them. Please don't feed the horses, and clean up the beach when you leave so that they don't get sick!
For water, they have learned to paw at the ground to release the fresh water hiding below. Aren't they smart?
What colors are they?
These Mustangs are all pretty much the same three colors: chestnut, bay, and black. Because they descend from just one maternal line, there is very little genetic diversity in the herd.
You might find the occasional white star or white sock, but you won't find any flashy paints, appaloosas or grays in this group.
What else makes these horses unique?
- The Spanish Mustangs have one less vertebrae in their spines than most horse breeds, a nod to their Arabian ancestry.
- Although they are small in stature (about 12-14 hands), they are technically horses, not ponies. If you were to compare one of these small horses with a true pony, you would see the differences in bone structure and conformation.
- There are only about 100 Corolla wild horses right now.
- Technically, Mustangs are considered feral horses (not wild horses... the only truly wild horse is the Przewalski's horse). As a result of their feral status, the Corolla horses are considered a "non-native invasive species" according to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. It has been a battle to protect the ponies and maintain herd size.
- Did you know that the first horses originated in North America and then spread to Asia and Europe? The horses that remained in North America became extinct about 10,000 years ago and were re-introduced by colonizing Europeans!
How are they cared for?
In the late 1980's the road from Duck to Corolla was paved. What was great for tourists became dangerous for the horses, and many were hit by cars and injured. As a result, in 1989 the Corolla Wild Horse Fund was founded and their first mission was to "create a sound-to-sea fence, install a cattle guard in the paved road, and move the remaining horses north of the populated areas of Corolla. Today the wild horses roam 7,544 acres that they share with nearly 700 houses, and thousands of cars and people."
Today, the Fund protects the critically endangered "Banker Breed" of Mustangs in many ways:
- Documentation - Each wild horse is documented and entered into a database by the Herd Manager (no microchips or brands are used).
- Fielding calls - During tourist season, the Fund receives up to 100 calls a day about wild horses!
- Population control - Through a carefully planned program, contraceptive darts are delivered to mares remotely so they don't produce a foal every year, thereby controlling the horse population and also protecting the health of the mare. Population control is important not only to ensure that the habitat can support the number of horses but also because there have been some serious birth defects due to inbreeding. The Corolla Mustangs are down to just one maternal line. Plans are being made to introduce new stallions and mares from the Shackleford horses, which are also pure Spanish Mustangs. Hopefully with time this will help diversify the herd.
- Habitat checks - Volunteers and employees of the fund constantly survey the habitat to make sure the horses are eating and drinking properly and there is enough vegetation to maintain the herd.
- Body Condition Checks - Horses are rated on a 9-point scale to ensure proper health and body condition. Horses in distress are treated by a veterinarian, although once a horse is removed from the herd it cannot be returned because it might introduce new equine diseases to the population.
- Read more about Herd Management here. https://www.corollawildhorses.com/management/
Video courtesy of OBX Drone Services
How can I help the horses?
Contact the Corolla Wild Horse Fund for the most accurate information about the herd, how they are managed, and what to do if you see a horse in trouble, sick, or being harassed by tourists. The Fund also accepts donations and memberships.
Feel free to visit the Museum Shop, which is open all year round.
The fund also hosts exciting and educational summer programs. Check their event calendar for updates.
Thank you for watching out for these magnificent creatures with whom we are lucky to share space.
Corolla Wild Horse Fund
Museum Store & More
520B Old Stoney Rd
Corolla, NC 27927