People and Places with Pierce: The wild horses of Corolla

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COROLLA, N.C. (WNCT) – The Outer Banks is known for its beautiful beaches, but there’s one that definitely stands out from the rest.

That’s because it’s the only one where beautiful horses roam wild and free. In this week’s People and Places with Pierce, we kick it into four-wheel drive to discover the wild horses of Corolla.

Tucked away in the far northeastern corner of the state, where the blacktop ends and the sand road begins, majestic horses run wild and free on Corolla’s beaches.

“The first actual documentation of horses arriving on the Outer Banks is about 1528 when a ship ran aground down in what is now Cape Lookout National Seashore,” said Karen McCalpin, executive director of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

The Colonial Spanish Mustang was designated the official state horse of North Carolina in 2010. What was once a herd of thousands is now less than 100. Those that remain draw quite a crowd.

“It’s just really amazing. We got a great tour guide. It was really just a great experience seeing the horses,” said Denise Brown, who is visiting from New Jersey.

This herd of Colonial Spanish Mustangs has been here along the Outer Banks for centuries, but further development north along the Outer Banks over the years is threatening their future.

“The paved road stopped at Duck until 1985 and when that happened, 20 horses were killed between Duck and Corolla on the highway. That prompted the development of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund,” said McCalpin.

The Fund moved the horses to their current location in 1997 because it was less developed. Currituck County ordinances offer some protection.

People are required to stay at least 50 feet away from the horses and are not allowed to feed them.  Even more work goes on behind the scenes to keep the herd healthy.

“We also control the population through a darted contraception program,” McCalpin explained. “I’m gonna load it in my dart gun and it’s gonna fire.”

“It is a vaccine that is delivered once a year. It helps our mares live longer, healthier lives if they are not giving birth to a foal every year.”

The bloodline of this herd has thinned out over the years. McCalpin hopes the herd of just over a hundred at Shackleford Banks can help.

“We’re working right now and hopefully we’ll be able to bring two mares in the fall, and that offspring will be the first genetically diverse offspring that we’ve had in almost 500 years,” she said.

She also hopes this stretch of land will become a permanent sanctuary before it’s too late.

“People come here and rent homes specifically because you can go out on your deck, have your cup of coffee, and there’s a horse in your yard, so it’s incredibly unique,” McCalpin continued.

“If you haven’t done it, do it. Take the tour. It’s great, it’s definitely worthwhile. The scenery is amazing,” Brown said.

Hopefully, the horses remain a part of the amazing scenery for many years to come.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund offers daily horse tours. Proceeds go directly toward helping care for the herd.

We’re always looking for your story ideas for People & Places with Pierce. If you have an interesting person or place you’d like to see featured, email Pierce or send him a message on Facebook or Twitter.

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