Carolina's Wild Horses
Horses of Shackleford Banks
wild Shackleford mustangs are accessible only by boat, isolated on
a nine-mile long barrier island between Beaufort Inlet and Cape Lookout.
These hardy descendants of Spanish Mustangs have the free run of the
island, which has no human habitation. Visitors ferrying out to the
lighthouse on Cape Lookout can often see the mustangs grazing at the
eastern end of the island, as in the photo at right. Vacationing boaters
can land on the island to explore and see the horses. Another option
is to take a passenger ferry from Beaufort or Harker's Island to reach
Shackleford, and then get picked up later in the day by the same ferry.
There are also tour and charter services that can provide both transportation
and guide services which offer the best chances of finding the horses.
The history of
the Shackleford wild horses is the same as that of the Ocracoke and
Corolla wild mustangs. Like the Ocracoke "Banker" ponies,
the Shackleford horses have often been referred to as ponies because
of their size, but they are true horses. DNA studies prove they are
descended from the Spanish mustangs brought to the Carolina coast
by explorers beginning in the early 1500's. Turned loose from shipwrecks,
or left behind when explorers had to flee failed attempts at colonization,
they spread out all along the barrier island chain as they grew in
They have survived in the wild, isolated on Shackleford and other
coastal barrier islands away from the mainland for almost half a millennium.
Unlike Ocracoke and Corolla, Shackleford Banks has never been suitable
for any significant human population, which has left it virtually
pristine to this day. As part of the National Park Service's Cape
Lookout National Seashore park, only day visitors and overnight camping
are permitted, keeping Shackleford free of dwellings, electrical service
or any other trappings of civilization.
More than 100
horses call Shackleford home, where they brave the elements of nature,
including hurricanes, just as they have for hundreds of years. The
Foundation for Shackleford Horses manages the horses in cooperation
with the Park Service. Occasional adoption of selected horses from
the herd is the means used to maintain the herd size between 110 and