The Wild Horses Of The Outer Banks

Most people equate wild horses with the Western United States where they are pretty much commonplace but wild horses in North Carolina?  On The Outer Banks of all places?   Indeed.   In fact, from the Carova area along the Virginia State line South to the Shackleford Banks, a nine mile long island off the coast of Beauford ,  North Carolina is home to a large population of wild horses.  They’ve  been here for hundreds of years even before the English settled in America.   This photograph was taken on the Beach in Corolla which is north of the Village of Duck on the Outer Banks.

The first record of horses being transported to the Americas is in 1493 when Columbus, on his second trip to the Americas, brought 25 horses on his ships with the idea of building ranches in the West Indies.   In the early 1500’s,  three expeditions were sent to the coast of the Carolinas and in 1526,  Lucas Vasques de Ayllon arrived in the territory with a half dozens ships loaded with 500 passengers and up to 89 horses.   According to, deAyllon soon died of a fever. The colony, wracked by disease, was in ruins and the survivors left to return to the West Indies.  The horses were left behind.  It’s widely believed that the Spanish Mustangs left behind are the ancestors of the wild horses on the Shackleford Banks.  Shackleford Banks is totally uninhabited and is only reachable by boat.    A similar expedition further up the North Carolina Coast a year later near Roanoke Island was also abandoned.  Legend has it that the  ship ran aground and its believed that in an effort to lighten the load and free the vessel,  supplies – including Spanish Horses – were tossed overboard.  Many historians believe the horses survived and are the ancestors of the Wild Horses on the Northern Outer Banks.

In recent years, as the Outer Banks became more inhabited,  measures have been taken to protect the horses and provide them with a safe environment.   Authorities strongly suggest that visitors view the horses from a distance and not try to feed them.  The wild horse’s diet is very sensitive and is based on the foliage that grows naturally on the Outer Banks.  Even giving an apple to a wild mustang can have serious health consequences for the horse.  As we like to say on the Outer Banks,  Come and visit us often but please, don’t leave anything behind but your footprints.

For a detailed history of the Wild Horses On The North Carolina Outer Banks, go to

And finally, thanks to my friend Dorothy Cunningham for prevailing upon me to write about the Wild Horses Of The Outer Banks. Visit her blog at

See you soon on most of this same site.

2 thoughts on “The Wild Horses Of The Outer Banks

  1. I remember with delight seeing the horses in 1980 when I was in Corolla. What a wonderful discovery – the area AND the horses. It was starting to get built-up at that time (there were some new condos and a security gate) but there was still a palpable wildness in the air, amongst the dunes and woods. I stayed with Norris Austin who was the postmaster of the village and the descendant of the lighthouse keeper. I remember exploring the abandoned buildings of the Whale(something) Club, which drove home the feeling of being in a strange, magical place. Thank you for sharing this.

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