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The Beautiful Wild Horses of Corolla, North Carolina

I love horses and have always wanted to see wild horses on the beaches of the mid-Atlantic coast. Well, I made that part of my mission this summer. I did some research and decided going on a tour would be the easiest way to go. As it turns out, if you know where to look you can go yourself, if you have a 4 wheel vehicle that is. We sadly do not have a 4 wheel vehicle so the tour was the best solution for us. We went with Wild Horse Adventure Tours in Corolla, North Carolina, and honestly, we couldn’t have been happier.

Table of Contents

The History of the Wild Horses of Corolla

The wild horses of Corolla actually date as far back as the early 1500s. The wild horses are descendants of Colonial Spanish Mustangs. There are a few theories on how they arrived on the outer banks. Some believe they were brought by the Spanish and had to swim ashore when the ship capsized.

Wild horse walking in the dunes.

Another theory is they are from Spanish settlements but have been left behind when the Spanish were forced out by the native people. Either way, these ‘banks’ horses as many refer to them, are wild and roam free on the northern outer banks in North Carolina.

Banker horses also show many similarities to the Spanish Arabian breed. The most striking is having one less vertebra than most horse breeds. The banker horses share more characteristics with their ancient ancestors: their even temperament, endurance, size, and their startling beauty.

The Spanish Mustang Registry is satisfied that the Banker Horses, in particular the Corolla strain, are as lineally pure to the 16th century Spanish importations as can be found in North America today, and that they compare closely to the selectively bred South American Spanish derivative stock.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund Incorporated
Eating the dune grasses

Protecting the Wild Horses

In the late 1980s when Rt 12 was paved north of Duck, horses started being hit by cars. This is when the Corolla Wild Horse Fund started. These brave volunteers fight every day to continue to protect these horses. Some protective measures that have helped keep the horses safe are a sound-to-sea fence and a cattle guard at the end of the paved road. The horses are now roaming on 7,544 acres of protected lands.

Do them and everyone else a favor, please, DO NOT FEED THEM! This isn’t because we don’t want to protect these horses. Instead, it’s because we love them and want them to be around for another 500 years. These wild horses have adapted their diet to eat only the dune grasses and plants where they live. Anything else is foreign to them. Something as simple as an apple can actually harm or even kill these wild horses since their digestive system isn’t used to it.

This year and last year’s foals.

They also know how to dig for fresh water when there isn’t enough rain to sustain the puddles or pools they normally have.

Do not go up to them and if one walks toward you walk away from the horse. If you see anyone trying to feed one, please alert the authorities or a tour guide. They know what to do. Thanks.

Another trip you may love is a road trip to see Maine’s Mid-Coast Lighthouses.

Why we chose Wild Horses Adventure Tours

When I read reviews of companies I look for specific things. I look to see if anyone mentions the guides. After all, they are the ones you will be with on your tour. In reading the reviews for Wild Horses I noticed that people mentioned quite a few different tour guides and everyone had great things to say about all the tour guides. This means no matter who you are with you will get a great guide.

Before our tour

For me, I also look beyond the reviews at the company as a whole. Wild Horses Adventure Tours is an eco-friendly company that also gives back. They work with the Corolla Wild Horse Fund to raise money to protect these magnificent creatures that call Corolla home. If you would like to donate to help protect these wonderful wild horses please donate to their fall fund.

Wild Horses Adventure Tours also partners with American Forests to offset their impact. Wild Horses donates to plant enough trees to offset their carbon footprint. So, in turn, I’m helping to plant more trees, I like that.

Tips on Booking Your Tour

If you know anything about wild animals, they feed early in the morning and around dusk. They do this because it’s cooler. In the middle of the day, they bed down to avoid the heat. For this reason, I wanted to go early in the day. I thought about sunset but of course, you can’t guarantee the weather and I wanted enough light for my photos so I opted for earlier in the day. Because we were on a road trip, I had to work around a few things, namely getting to the location in the days ahead of the tour.

Just getting onto the beach

We booked for 10 am on a Sunday knowing we needed to drive 2 hours that morning. This was not originally listed as the first tour for the day but as it turned out it was.

Well, for so many reasons I’m super glad we chose that time and lucked out as it was the first tour of the day. First off, we didn’t have any traffic driving up Route 12 to Corolla. Secondly, the beach was still quiet. This really proved to be a great thing. Lastly, there weren’t a lot of other tours out looking for horses during our tour.

Our Experience Seeing the Wild Horses of Corolla

To see the wild horses you actually have to cross a metal grate (cattle guard) at the end of the paved road to get onto the beach where the horses are. This is to prevent the horses from leaving their protected sanctuary. The authorities were even building a bigger wire fence between the public beach and the preserve to keep the horses on their section of the beach.

Hanging out on the beach

The first couple of wild horses we saw grazing in the dunes. Those first few wild horses were amazing to see, just eating the grass and swatting at some flies. As we drove farther up the beach we saw another herd of horses at the ocean. Again, I think this is because we were on the first tour that day but I was super surprised and thrilled to see the wild horses down by the ocean.

Our guide explained that when it isn’t windy flies bother the horses more. The wild horses tend to go down by the ocean where there is always some breeze to get away from the biting flies. However, they can’t stay there all day, they need to eat so at some point they will go back to the dunes to eat. The guide explained to us that the wild horses eat between 5 and 6 pounds of grass and plants a day. So they tend to graze a lot instead of eating 3 meals a day like domestic horses.

The wild horses always have free roam on the preserve

The guide also told us that there have been several foals born in the last few years. We were super lucky to see 3 of them. We saw this year’s foals and last year’s as well. Our guide pointed out their tail length as the indicator to know their age. After 3 years old their tails are full length.

If you love the ocean you are sure to also love my Coastal New England Road Trip.

The Herds of the Wild Horses

I loved learning about the different herds of wild horses. Our guide explained there are over 100 wild horses on the preserve but they roam in various herds, not all as one. Even though the stallions think they control a herd, it is really the mare that guides the herd to their feeding grounds.

When you have a house on the preserve you sometimes have horses near your house.

There were several different herds that we were able to find on our tour. The wild horses love to roam the different dunes in search of the tender grasses and that was where we saw many of the herds. However, we also were surprised to see a mare and her foal roaming at the entrance to a house and around their cars.

It rained a few days before our tour so there was a small pool where a herd was grazing and drinking. It is so amazing to see wild horses grazing and then lying down for a rest. I’m not sure if the herd using the pool allows all the herds to drink from that pool. That would be something to see. A fight over a watering hole. I’m sure these wild horses are smart enough to know where to dig for their water, though.

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Final Thoughts

As you can see the wild horses of Corolla are very special and need everyone’s help to protect them. Have you seen any wild horses or other animals? Do you plan trips to see animals in their natural environment?

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Lisa Manderino

    A wild horse tour sounds amazing! I would love to go on one!

    1. Leeanne

      I’m sure you and your kids would love it, Lisa.

  2. Jennifer

    I think it looks like an awesome experience to see the wild horses of Corolla in North Carolina. I love the pictures of the horses in the dunes and with the houses in the background.

    1. Leeanne

      It was super cool to see the horses walking around among the houses.

  3. Erin

    Aren’t they absolutely STUNNING?! I love that they have a tour that you can take and see the horses up close. And it’s amazing that they feel safe enough to come right up to the homes in the area. What a great adventure you all had!

    1. Leeanne

      Yes, it certainly was amazing. They just need more protection so people leave them alone and just let them do their thing.

  4. I’ve always wanted to see the wild horses in North Carolina. I thought they were in Asseteague! They are beautiful. We have wild mustangs in parts of New Mexico.
    Interesting that these horses cannot eat anything other than what’s found in their habitat.

    1. Leeanne

      There are also horses in Aseteague but that is in Maryland. We didn’t go there because my research said you can sometimes see them in a feeding pen and I really wanted to see wild horses.

  5. Marianne G

    The wild horses of Corolla truly are beautiful!! What an amazing adventure to have!

  6. Cindy Moore

    These wild horses are magnificent! I had horses as a youth and my older daughter grew up riding and showing horses. She’d love this experience.

    1. Leeanne

      It’s the same for me. I grew up riding and now my kids are taking lessons.

  7. Missy

    Such a wonderful adventure. Yes, we SUP boarded the Salt river in AZ and viewed wild horse.

    1. Leeanne

      That must have been amazing to see them while on the water.

  8. Tranquil Trekker

    I used to live in NC and have visited the OBX but never had time to see the horses. It’s definitely on my bucket list for another time!

    1. Leeanne

      I know what you mean, you really do need to make time for these things.

  9. kmf

    The Wild Horse Adventure Tours in Corolla, North Carolina looks and sounds like a great experience! Love the history and background you provided.

    1. Leeanne

      The wild horses really are amazing.

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