North Carolina’s Outer Banks is a 200-mile-long string of barrier islands splitting the coast of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. A popular tourist destination, the Outer Banks are known around the world for their strange subtropical climate and the wide expanse of open, available beachfront. Visitors have the opportunity to camp out, swim at leisure, and browse the shipwrecks just off the coast. However, the Outer Banks are known for more than the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and ample beachfront opportunities—they’re also known for feral horses.
The horses living on these islands are sometimes called “banker ponies.” According to local legend, they are descended from Spanish Mustangs who washed ashore in one of the centuries-old shipwrecks. Visitors can spot populations of feral horses on Ocracoke Island, Shackleford Banks, Currituck Banks, and the Rachel Carson Estuarine Sanctuary.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the horse population on these subtropical islands grew enormously; thousands of feral horses ran free along the islands. However, the increase in nearby beach resort popularity has made a dramatic impact on their habitat. Many conservationists feat that the horses might vanish altogether. Due to high levels of inbreeding, the herds lack necessary genetic diversity. Unfortunately, the also impedes the horse population’s survival.
If, however, you travel to this part of the country to spot feral horses, take care to search primarily in wildlife sanctuaries; visitors are asked to stay at least fifty feet away from the horses. However, horses are occasionally spotted in areas with higher human traffic. They spend time digging for fresh water near saltwater cordgrass.