Monday, January 28, 2013

Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks

The evidence was everywhere, but where were the horses?  This barrier island was nine miles long and my three travel buddies and I only had two hours to find them.  "I'll be back at four," the captain of the little Boston Whaler told us.  "Same spot."  Gulp.  We looked around for a landmark and saw nothing but sand, sand and more sand.  If we were going to find the horses and make it back in time, we better boogie.

An hour later, just beyond the dunes in the middle of the island, we found them.  And if ever there was a magical moment in my travels, this was one of them!

Shackleford Banks is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, off the coast of North Carolina.  The horses here are legendary.  Believed to have swum ashore from Spanish sinking ships in the 16th century, they have remained wild ever since.  There are nearly 100 of them on the island.  The locals call them "Banker Ponies" because of their small size.  We stumbled across a group of mares with one adorable foal.    At first, we were reluctant to get too close for fear the horses would run away, but they were totally indifferent to our presence.  We crept closer and closer.  Only the foal seemed curious about us.  We wondered if he had ever seen a human being before, he was so young.
 The horses are able to find enough food and water on the island to survive.  They are managed by the National Park Service and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses.  They have implemented a birth control program to keep the herd down and some of them have been removed and put up for adoption.  So are they really "wild"?  Yes and no.  It's clear they are used to people, tourists like us who come out here to admire and photograph them.  Despite the signs,  Do not to feed the horses,  I suspect they have all had a tasty carrot or two.  "Don't put your backpack down," we were warned.
We hated to leave them, but someone in our little group noticed the time, and we had to run back to the end of the island to catch the boat ride home.  A very special, special day!

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