These four wild horses on the beach walking down to the surf line live in Currituck National Wildlife Refuge past the end of the road in the Outer Banks at Corolla, North Carolina. From that point, only four-wheel-drive vehicles can take you where these animals roam the beach and dunes as there are no paved roads. You can drive along the beach another 12 miles to the Virginia line, in addition to a few unpaved and very sandy inroads into the dunes.
At both ends of the refuge, there are fences and a cattle guard at the end of the Corolla hard road. The boundaries are there to keep the wild horses from wandering onto the highways and into heavily developed areas to the south. How long have the “banker ponies” been here and where did they come from? No one knows, but the two best guesses have the horses as Spanish shipwreck descendants or escaped farming horses. The actual answer may be both and more. The mystery remains.
These wild horses on the beach have cousins in groups to the north at Chinoteague and south through the Outer Banks region. The enforced isolation has led to some inbreeding issues, although the animals appear to be healthy overall. They are also entirely solid color or bays here, yet the horses at Chincoteague in Virginia are mostly paints. All the horses at both locations are noticeably short which makes them more accurately classed as wild ponies.
In this image of the four beachcombers, a stallion and his harem string of three mares mosey toward the edge of the waves. They’ve just walked down from the sand dunes behind them. Soon they might form a walking string with the stallion leading to go further down the beach. Or they might gather in a tight group to stand facing the waves where they would simply doze. Wild ponies at the ocean often do so to simply let the offshore breeze blow the insects away. I’ve always enjoyed watching herd behavior sitting on a pasture fence overlooking domestic herds, but here was a very interesting chance to watch these feral horses in their natural setting.
Location: at the edge of the ocean waves near Corolla, North Carolina in the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. Picture and story © Andrew Dierks
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