It’s a scene like you’ve only viewed on television – the toss of manes and rearing of forelegs, the wild neighs and clatter of hooves as two horses duke it out for the lady they both fancy, sea oats waving in the background and an ocean breeze coursing over the rippling muscles of their bodies. Only you’re there, in person, watching it all unfold. Riding in an open-air Hummer, you glide over the sand in search of the wild horses of Corova, descendants of shipwrecked Spanish mustangs. And the surprising thing is that, in the midst of all this wildness, all the neighing and cantering, the munching of sea oats and shaking of manes, it can take place beside a beach home, the shadow of the house providing a cooling spot for horses to rest or eat, the footprint of human beings interacting with wild horses in a way that benefits everyone involved.
Arriving at Wild Horse Adventure Tours, there’s a palpable sense of excitement and, well, adventure. A fleet of Hummers, continuously maintained and ready to accommodate your family or vacation group, waits for you to board. The vehicles are appealing in and of themselves and are custom-designed to provide the most comfortable ride – and the safest too since the Hummer H-1 features a roll cage built into the frame. Real seats provide seatbelts and restraint systems so you can bring a car seat if need be. You get a 360-degree view with the feel of open airiness with a covered roof, so the tour can take place rain or shine.
Once settled in your (quite comfortable!) seat, the tour guide introduces him-or herself and you’re ready to roll. For the first 10 to 12 minutes there’s pavement, past the Corolla lighthouse, past the historic Whalehead Club, and then the road ends. It’s about to get wild. The Hummer rattles over a cattle grate placed at the southern border of the wild horse refuge to keep the horses from wandering into the Corolla area. You’re in their territory now. It’s 8,000-plus acres, and the first mile and a half is a wildlife refuge, so there’s no stopping or getting out of the Hummer. The vehicle travels on.
And then you hit the beach! It’s the first time you’ll see the ocean on the trip. “The wind can get pretty wild,” says Kasey Powell, former tour guide and current director of marketing for Wild Horse Adventure Tours. As the Hummer rolls on, you’ll see the first imprints of human beings on this remote territory – cars. For now, it’s the only area of the Outer Banks where you don’t need a permit to drive on the beach, and in peak season there can be a good number of vehicles parked in the middle of the beach enjoying a daytrip to the area. A neighborhood emerges, tall beach houses and small shingled cottages, and then, in the shadows of the houses, beside the parked SUVs, wild horses. “This is nature and humans living together out there,” says Kasey. And the intermingling provides a sort of magic all its own. “In regular life, you don’t usually see horses by a house walking around eating grass!”
The horses’ coats are black or brown or spotted, blond manes and dark manes, long swishing tails and twitching ears. There are babies and mothers and grown stallions; sometimes they’re rolling in the sand or munching on sea oats or even fighting amongst themselves. Untamed, the horses lounge or frolic or eat alongside the gulls and sand crabs and sea grasses and you. Your tour guide breaks down the horses’ history, how they arrived on Spanish shipwrecks in the 1500s and that their status is now critically endangered. Extinct in Spain, the ones you’re seeing are part of the fewer than 200 left on the planet. A 50-foot distance between human and horse must be kept at all times. And you’ll learn that by participating in a Wild Horse Adventure Tour, you’re contributing to the company’s commitment to protecting these majestic wild creatures.
Wild Horse Adventure Tours is a large donor to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, a nonprofit organization that manages the herd. The nonprofit keeps tab on the condition of the fence that keeps the horses from the paved-roads, off the heavily trafficked part of Corolla, checks in on the horses, provides light medical care and calls for a veterinarian if needed. Wild Horse Adventure Tours continues to donate to the cause and also has contributed to an emergency medical fund for the horses. They also have purchased sections of land to shield the sanctuary from development. Committed to a zero-carbon footprint, the company partners with a nonprofit that plants trees to offset emissions from the Hummers. They recycle everything and pick up harmful trash they find during the course of a tour. Beach cleanups are another community service project performed by the company. Working with local nonprofits and framing it as a fun competition, they’ve collected more than 100 pounds of trash along Outer Banks beaches.
Back on the tour, you’ll leave the neighborhoods of Corova and venture toward the sound side of the island. The largest piece of land Wild Horse Adventure Tours owns is back there, a big swath of land on the west side of the island. You’ll usually see one or two families of horses there, and then you’ll travel to an undeveloped oak grove. “This is what the Outer Banks looks like naturally,” says Kasey. You’ll see the sound and the ocean in one sweeping view, a testament to the narrowness and fragility of the island. The horses, adapted to their environment, will go out and drink the brackish sound water. Driving behind the sand dunes, the horses could be anywhere. “Horse droppings are an entertaining part of the tour,” says Kasey. “We know if the poop has been there for a week or if it’s fresh. The fresh stuff is like a current trail – along with their tracks – that leads us to them a lot of the time. Part of finding the horses is luck, part is knowing where certain families like to roam at certain times of day. Finishing the tour, you’ll drive back to the southern end of the sanctuary, over the cattle grate and back to paved roads and civilization.
No wild horse tour is the same. Depending on weather, time of year and endless other variables, your tour will be different and new even if you come year after year, as many families do. While seeing wild horses is not 100% guaranteed, what is ensured is that this activity is a fun, exciting adventure the entire family can enjoy, from baby to teen to older adult. With experienced tour guides familiar with the horses’ habitats and roaming routines, odds are you’ll see some. Each tour contributes to heightening the public’s awareness of both the wild horses and the protection of their environment. “They are the catalyst that’s going to protect all the other wildlife out there,” says Kasey. Your fun vacation adventure truly has the capacity to affect positive change as you engage in a partnership with the wild.
BOOK YOUR ADVENTURE TODAY!
610 Currituck Clubhouse Drive | Corolla
(252) 489-2020 | wildhorsetour.com