Wild about Horses

By Molly Harrison | Wednesday, June 27, 2012
See wild horses roaming freely on the sands north of Corolla

One of the great joys of being on the Outer Banks is seeing the Corolla wild horses roaming freely on the northern stretches of the Currituck Outer Banks. I've seen them several times, and every single time it's been a thrill and a shock to see unpenned horses frolicking in the surf, walking slowly along the beach or resting in the shade on the interior of the island.

The most surreal wild horse sightings I've ever seen were in the early 1990s, when the wild horses roamed around in Corolla proper, nosing in trash cans and munching sod. In 1996 folks from the Corolla Wild Horse Fund (CWHF) moved the horses to the 4WD area north of Corolla where fences help protect them from the hazards in Corolla and Sandbridge, Va. But still today you can see the wild horses wandering among the increasing number of rental homes in the 4WD area - a weird sight.

About 140 Corolla wild horses - referred to as both Banker horses and Spanish mustangs - live on about 7,500 acres of land from the end of N.C. Highway 12 in Corolla to the Virginia border, which is a stretch of about 11 miles. The herd is protected by the CWHF, but the fund does not feed the animals. The horses survive on their own accord, existing on rainwater and grasses.

The horses have a fascinating history. It is believed that their ancestors were brought to the Outer Banks in the 16th century by Spanish explorers and that the descendants of those horses have lived on the Outer Banks for 500 years. The Corolla wild horses carry the distinguishing features of Spanish-type horses, and the Spanish mustang registry is satisfied that the Banker horses are lineally pure to the 16th-century Spanish imports. At one time thousands of wild horses roamed free on the Outer Banks, but now there are only a few hundred north of Corolla and on Shackleford Banks.

If you want to see the Spanish wild mustangs of Corolla, the best thing to do is to take a guided tour. Several wild horse tour outfitters in Corolla offer tours - in Jeeps, Hummers and Suburbans, even on Segways and kayaks. These people look for the horses day in and day out - they know their habits and therefore know where to look for them depending on the weather conditions and time of day. A guided tour is your best bet for seeing the horses. To find a tour company, click here.

You can always drive up to the 4WD area yourself, assuming you have a 4WD vehicle. Finding the horses on your own is not as easy as you would think. Even though the island is quite narrow and only 11 miles long, the horses are not always out in the open. Sometimes they're back in the woods and you just kind of have to look around. I've definitely driven up there and gotten skunked. But you just might get lucky - and it is fun to drive on the beach.

Remember, whether you're on a tour or on your own, it is against the law to feed or get within 50 feet of a wild horse. In fact, it's an arrestable offense that's subject to a $500 fine. Not only is it against the law, it's also dangerous for you and the horses. The horses have a specialized diet and feeding them puts them at risk for painful and potentially fatal problems. Plus they're wild animals. They can trample or bite people.

If you can't get up to the 4WD area, there are other opportunities to see Banker ponies. The CWHF offers Spanish mustang rides on gentled horses several times a week. The fund trains and gentles any horse that has to be removed from the herd so that it is suitable for adoption. These horses have gotten additional training to carry riders. Mustang rides are offered on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Corolla Wild Horse Museum in old Corolla Village and on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Wild Horse Store in the Corolla Light Towne Center. Rides cost $6, and the proceeds help protect the wild herd. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund also offers horse-inspired crafts for kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Wild Horse Museum. If you are really enamored with the Corolla wild horses, consider becoming a sponsor of the CWHF. For certain levels of sponsorship, you can take a private tour with the CWHF herd manager to the northern beaches. You'll follow the herd manager on his daily activities and have spectacular photo ops and support the herd at the same time. Get more details about the weekly programs and sponsorship opportunities here.

You can also ride a gentled Spanish mustang on Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Faire Days Festival at Scarborough Faire Shopping Village in Duck. The horse rides are for kids, of course, but there's plenty more at the festival for adults, including shopping, wine, food, arts and more. The kids also have crafts, a magic show and marionettes for entertainment.

Coming up next week (July 3 through 6) is Corolla Wild Horse Days, a festival to celebrate and raise awareness of the Corolla wild horses. On July 3 at Currituck Heritage Park in Corolla, they'll have Spanish mustang rides, a silent auction, food, vendors, activities a petting zoo and more. On July 4, they'll be offering horse rides and other activities from noon to 4 and rides from 5 to 7 p.m. On July 5, the festivities move to the Corolla Wild Horse Museum with rides, food, music and more. On July 6 they'll offer rides from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Corolla Light Town Center. Wild Horse Days events are free to enter, but bring cash for horse rides, activities, food and more.

On Roanoke Island, you can see a Spanish mustang at The Island Farm living history site. Grace the horse was adopted from the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and now lives at Island Farm, along with Rainbow, another mustang, and Charlie the ox, Roxanna the cow and several sheep and chickens. The animals help interpret life on the island 150 years ago. On Thursdays from 2 to 3 p.m. you can visit with Grace (but not ride her).

Down on the southern Outer Banks, you can see Banker ponies on Ocracoke Island. Banker ponies once roamed freely on Ocracoke Island, but now the last remaining horses are cared for by the National Park Service in pens just outside the village. You can stop at the pens and peer over the fence to glimpse these horses, which are cared for and managed and fed. The National Park Service will be bringing some of the Ocracoke ponies into the village on the Fourth of July. Caretakers will have the horses at the NPS Visitor Center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., so stop by and say hello. Find out more about the Ocracoke ponies here.

I hope you can see a traditional Outer Banks horse somewhere while you're here. They are such treasured residents of the islands. So what else is there to do on the Outer Banks This Week? Well...

The Town of Duck has started its free summer programs in Duck Town Park. This Thursday night you can see popular local band Aquarium in the park from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Bring lawn chairs or blankets to sit on and enjoy a night outside. For a full list of programs, click here.

Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo has its Children's Show on Thursday: Seven in One Blow, presented by East Carolina University. The story is based on a Grimm's fairy tale. Tickets cost $5 for everyone older than age 5. Arrive early. These shows tend to fill up.

East Carolina University is also presenting Our Town this week at Festival Park. Catch it Wednesday or Thursday nights at 7 p.m. in the Indoor Theatre. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for kids (5 and younger free).

Of course you need to see The Lost Colony this week. It runs nightly except Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Can you believe this year is the 75th anniversary year of this beloved show?

The Lost Colony is starting its children's show this week - it's called Balloonacy. It's geared for preschool-aged children, and you can see it on Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. at the COA Campus in Manteo.

If a kid in your family likes to fish, consider entering the Small Fry Fishing Tournament on Thursday and Friday at Pirate's Cove Marina. It's a two-day tournament with awards, pizza and lots of fun.

Kitty Hawk Kites is hosting its annual Sand Sculpture Festival at the Nags Head store this week. They bring in a professional sand-sculpture company, which makes a huge sand creation in the parking lot across from Jockey's Ridge. It's always really cool and there are other surrounding events, like raffles, entertainment and more. It's held Wednesday through Sunday.

Keep looking around our By Day listings - both Events and Programmed Activities - too see what else is going on this week in the daytime hours.

For nightlife options, which are too extensive for me to tell you about here, go to our Nightlife page to browse among everything from The Comedy Club to open mic nights to karaoke. P.S. You might want to try to catch Carbon Leaf at Kelly's at 9 p.m. on Thursday.

Heads up: We've got all the Fourth of July activities listed in our events listings, in both By Day and Nightlife. Remember you can search our events listings by date if you just want to look at one day.

Have a great week! The weather looks spectacular - hot but light winds and good surf.

(BTW: Thanks to Corolla Wild Horse Fund for the photo of one of the 2012 foals in the Corolla wild horse herd.)

Outer Banks This Week Giveaway

This week you have a chance to win a Free Wild Horse Tour with Bob's Wild Horse Tours and a Free Large Cheese Pizza from Beach Road Pizza!

For more information about Bob's Wild Horse Tours, check out their website.

For more information about Beach Road Pizza, check out their website.

Last Week's Winner

Congratulations to Brad & Amber Wetzel!!!

You won a family 4 pack with Pirate Adventures of The Outer Banks and a $25 gift certificate to Ortega'z Southwestern Grill & Wine Bar!

Outer Banks This Week Giveaway Winner

For more information about Pirate Adventures of the Outer Banks, check out their website.

For more information about Ortega'z Southwestern Grill & Wine Bar, check out their website.

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of OuterBanksThisWeek.com. She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks. When not working she practices and teaches yoga and spends as much time as possible outside and in or on the water with her husband and two children.