Wild Horses of North CarolinaGolden threads of sunlight had just begun to slice through the soft blue-gray horizon where the sea met the sky. This is the magic hour on the shores of North Carolina’s outer banks region. The salty air is filled with a peaceful anticipation of the day to come. It is my favorite time.

Sleeping in during a family vacation might be the accepted norm, but I prefer to rise early and enjoy the quiet calm that is so very elusive at home. I’d found my way out onto sun worn the deck of Mermaid’s Wake, a beach house set upon stilts high above the windswept dunes. Coffee in hand, I was ready to welcome another day in the seaside village of Corolla, North Carolina.

Most mornings during our first days here, I’d been joined by the occasional dragonfly perched nearby to bear witness to the rising sun with me. This morning a rustling from below the deck drew my attention away from the sky. In the small yard to the rear of the house, three wild horses grazed upon the hearty tufts of grass that grew from beneath the sand.

Wild Horse in the yard


Here along the shore of North Carolina, a herd of 117 “Banker Horses” roam freely. These majestic creatures are thought to be descendants of Spanish-type horses, likely left behind when Spaniards abandoned their attempts to colonize the area and perhaps even from horses tossed overboard from Spanish ships run aground on the coastal shoals in the 16th century. In fact,

The Spanish Mustang Registry has certified that the heard of Banker Horses of the Corolla strain, have bloodlines that can be traced back to 16th century Spanish importations, and are the most pure lines found in North America today.

Signs throughout the village and among the dunes of the beach remind visitors of a county ordinance stating that humans must remain at least 30 feet from the horses lest they be fined. Others warn that approaching, touching and feeding the horses is also not allowed.

Here I sat, just steps (literally seven of them that lead to the top of the deck) from several of these storied animals. They looked at me as though I were the curiosity as they nibbled away. Not wanting to break the spell — yet knowing I couldn’t let the children miss this — I went into the house to wake them. As we gathered on the deck in hushed wonder, a whinny sounded from atop the dune to our left. There stood a larger horse, calling to those in our yard. Our visitors answered back and then began to follow that call, across the dunes and out of sight.

Horses of NC

My six year old daughter mused, “They’re finished with breakfast and their mommy wants them to go get ready to play!” I think she may have been right. Funny those connections that we make with the world around us when we travel. Similarities can be found is the most unexpected of places.

We’d see the horses every evening along the shore as the tide came in, cooling their feet and enjoying the ocean breeze, but we’d have to keep our distance, along with the rest of the awe-struck visitors. A few more times during our stay. the herd would come to graze on the dunes near Mermaid’s Wake, but never so close again. The memory of that morning will, no doubt, rank among my family’s most treasured travel stories.

For more information on the Wild Horses found in Corolla, and to help in the preservation of both the herd and their threatened habitat, visit the Corolla Wild Horses fund online at www.corollawildhorses.com.