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Know Before You Go: Corolla's Wild Horses

Enjoy this top attraction through responsible tourism practices.

Two wild horses roaming in Corolla, NC
Know Before You Go: Corolla's Wild Horses

The wild horses of Corolla, North Carolina, are not just a sight to behold; they're a living link to the area’s history and natural heritage. These majestic creatures, known for their beauty and untamed spirit, have captured the hearts of both locals and visitors alike. As human development and interaction continues to threaten their environment, it’s our duty to ensure they continue to thrive in their coastal sanctuary. In this blog post, we’ll delve into captivating history of Corolla's wild horses, preservation efforts, and laws and regulations that allow us to share their world while safeguarding their well-being.


Ancient Origins and Survival Against the Odds

The Corolla wild horses are a group of feral horses that inhabit the northern beaches of the Currituck Outer Banks in North Carolina. The history of these horses dates back several centuries and is intertwined with the region's maritime history and colonization. The exact origin of the Corolla wild horses is not well-documented, but it was widely believed (and later confirmed through DNA testing) that they are descendants of Spanish mustangs that were brought to the area during the early colonial period in the 1500s. Spanish explorers and settlers are known to have introduced horses to North America, and some of these horses likely made their way to the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks were notorious for shipwrecks due to the treacherous coastline and shifting sandbars. Over the centuries, many ships ran aground in the area, and it's thought that some of the horses on board these ships managed to escape and establish a feral population on the barrier islands.

Over time, the Corolla wild horses became a part of local lore and culture, and their survival in the harsh coastal environment is a testament to their adaptability. For centuries, they have endured numerous threats to their survival including harsh weather conditions, changing landscapes, and human development. Despite these challenges, these resilient animals adapted to their environment, finding sustenance and refuge in the dunes, marshes, and beaches that make up their habitat.

Preservation Efforts

By the 20th century, the horses' habitat was increasingly threatened by encroachment and tourism, which increased the potential for conflicts between the horses and humans. As a result, efforts have been made to manage and protect these horses, including moving them to Carova, a remote and less-developed area within the Currituck Outer Banks.

Recognizing the significance of the Corolla wild horses, local residents and organizations have worked tirelessly to ensure their preservation. The establishment of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund (CWHF) in 1989 marked a turning point in the efforts to protect these animals. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the wild horses. With a mission to protect, conserve, and responsibly manage these historic and iconic creatures, the CWHF plays a pivotal role in ensuring the survival of the Corolla wild horses for generations to come.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund mission is “to protect, conserve, and responsibly manage the herd of wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs roaming freely on the northernmost Currituck Outer Banks, and to promote the continued preservation of this land as a permanent sanctuary for horses designated as the State Horse and defined as a cultural treasure by the state of North Carolina.”

Coexistence with Humans

Over the years, the wild horses of Corolla have become both a beloved attraction and a symbol of the region’s untamed beauty. As visitors flock to the beaches to catch a glimpse of these creatures, responsible tourism practices have become increasingly important. Laws and regulations have been put in place to minimize human interference, emphasizing the need to maintain a safe distance and avoid feeding or touching the horses. It's important for everyone to be aware of and respect these laws to ensure a harmonious coexistence:

  1. Do Not Feed the Horses. Feeding the Corolla wild horses is strictly prohibited. While it may be tempting to share food with these magnificent creatures, their natural diet—consisting of only native plants and grasses—is essential to their health. Human food can lead to extreme intestinal distress, and a horse's anatomy makes it nearly impossible for them to throw up foods that disagree with them. This can lead to colic, an extremely painful and often deadly condition for horses.

  2. Maintain a 50-Foot Distance. Respecting the horses’ space is vital. Stay at least 50 feet away from the horses at all times. This not only minimizes stress to the animals but also keeps visitors safe from any potential reactions. Maintain a calm and quiet demeanor. Sudden movements or loud noises can startle them and cause unnecessary stress. Use binoculars or a camera with a zoom lens to enjoy their beauty without intruding on their space.

  3. No Touching or Disturbing. Although it’s tempting to get up close and personal with the wild horses, touching or attempting to interact with them can cause distress and alter their natural behavior. It’s best to observe them from a distance to allow them to go about their daily lives uninterrupted. Though they may appear docile, it's important to remember they're wild and will always be unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

  4. Respect Laws and Regulations. Familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations governing interactions with the wild horses, including penalties that are strictly enforced. These rules are designed to protect both the horses and visitors.

  5. Stay on Designated Paths and Roads. Stick to established paths, roads, and marked areas. Venturing off the beaten path can disrupt fragile ecosystems, trample vegetation, and disturb wildlife habitats.

  6. Educate and Share Awareness. Spread the word about responsible horse-watching practices. Educate fellow visitors and share the importance of maintaining a respectful distance and adhering to guidelines. The more people understand, the better the chances of ensuring the well-being of the horses.

  7. Support Conservation Efforts. Consider donating to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund or participating in their programs and events. Your support contributes to the conservation and protection of these beautiful creatures and their habitat.

Further Reading on Corolla's Wild Horses

The history of the Corolla wild horses is a complex and fascinating tale of survival, adaptation, and the efforts of dedicated individuals to protect and preserve a unique and culturally significant population of feral horses. They're more than just a tourist attraction; they're living symbols of the area’s history, resilience, and connection to nature.

Thanks to the efforts of the CWHF and responsible visitors, these creatures continue to thrive along the shores of Corolla, NC. Respecting the Corolla wild horses is not just a matter of following rules; it’s an act of reverence for the natural world and a demonstration of our commitment to preserving their legacy. To learn more or contribute, check out these resources:

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