The Corolla Wild Horses are descendants of Spanish Mustangs left on what is now the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the 1500s. How they got there has been narrowed down to two plausible theories both of which have supporting documentation in journals from early explorers of North America.
One belief is that they were left by Spanish explorers during a hasty departure after mounting tension with Native Americans. A second explanation traces back to an English shipwreck in the area. The ship log indicated livestock onboard, including Spanish Mustangs. It is thought the horses may have reached the shore after the shipwreck (likely along the sandbar causing the shipwreck).
We do know from DNA testing that the Corolla Wild Horses share the same genetics and features as Spanish Mustangs. Regardless of how they arrived, there is consensus that these horses have lived wild on the Outer Banks for nearly 500 years and their presence was noted by subsequent explorers of the area in the following centuries.
The horses survived by adjusting to a native diet of sea oats, coastal grasses, acorns, persimmons, and other area vegetation. Because of this diet, foods like carrots, apples, and other items we think horses might enjoy will make Corolla Wild Horses sick…even fatally sick. When visiting Corolla, you are not allowed to feed the horses.
Another word of caution in case you traveling without a tour group is that you should always stay at least 50 feet from the horses – definitely no touching. The scent of humans can cause problems for the horses in their family structure and may lead to them being banished from their family unit. Also, while these horses may appear calm, they are wild and may charge, bite, or kick you if they feel you are a threat.
Anticipating the need to take photos from a distance, I brought my Nikon DSLR with the 70-300 mm telephoto zoom lens attached. Its vibration reduction technology also helped to reduce the need for a stabilizing pod. This allowed me to capture some pretty good detail from a distance.
Where exactly are the horses? They are located in the northern most area of the Outer Banks. To get to them you will first need a 4WD vehicle or sign up for one of the tour groups offering Hummer or Jeep excursions. Then, you drive north on highway 12 through the town of Corolla and continue north until the paved road ends. At this point, you will enter a stretch of sandy shoreline between the dunes and ocean known as the North Beach Access Road. From here there is another 15 miles or so of sandy shoreline you can travel following normal traffic patterns.
Along the way, you’ll see that there are cottages beyond the sand dunes (no paved streets though) and in some spots you are able to pull over and park on the beach.
You may see them on the beach, in the sand dunes, or simply grazing on the wild grass around the cottages. Again, you can photograph all you want but no feeding and keep your distance.
The horses avoid drinking salt water from the ocean and can often be found inland near fresh water locations.
In the image below, you can see one of the horses taking a nap. I was told they sleep in 20-minute intervals throughout the day and are usually standing, but not always.
There are about 100 wild horses. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund (a small permanent staff along with volunteers) has assumed responsibility for monitoring and protecting the horses. They only intervene when a horse is injured or sick. Otherwise, they monitor the environment to ensure to horses remain safe, free, and wild…as they have been for 500 years and counting.
If you ever make it to the Outer Banks, mark this as a must-see on your itinerary.
Where in the World:
North Carolina is a located in part of the Southeastern United States. It is framed within the Appalachian Mountains to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. North Carolina is one of the 13 original English colonies involved in the Revolutionary War. During the American War of Independence, North Carolina was the 5th most populated colony and is today the 9th most populated state in America.
The Outer Banks location for the Corolla Wild Horses is pinned below.