Along the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina sits a collection of barrier islands called the Outer Banks (OBX). While the islands are barely a mile wide, there is plenty to do in the 130-mile stretch.
A car is necessary to get on and around the island. The outer banks have all the typical beach activities – fishing, swimming, kayaking, mini-golf, kite flying, and water parks. Unfortunately, my visit was cut short due to Hurricane Dorian. I did, however, have enough time to do something different – see the wild horses of Corolla! More specifically – Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs.
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Where are the wild horses in the Outer Banks?
The Wild Horses are located in the northernmost beaches of Corolla, Outer Banks. They live in a 4 wheel drive area just north of Corolla. Be sure to check out my guide for other awesome things to do in Corolla.
Where did the wild horses of Outer Banks come from?
The wild ponies of Corolla descended from Spanish Mustangs. These were brought by early explorers. They are wild animals that have roamed around the island for approximately 400 years.
How do you see the wlid horses of Corolla?
While you could take your own four-wheel-drive car on the beach, we opted for a guided tour. If your car is not a high car (think pick up truck or similar) it’s probably a good idea to do a tour. We saw two sedans stuck in the sand! Our driver, Karen, said the cost of towing itself is outrageous – not to mention the potential damage to the car. No thanks – take my $45.
We went with Corolla Wild Horse Tours, right in the heart of Corolla. Tours are typically two hours long. The first tour leaves at 9:45 am, then 12:15 pm, and then 2:45 pm. Since we were on vacation and liked to sleep in, we went for the 12:15 tour.
There were two trucks that went out with 16 people in each. Be sure to wear your seat belt as there are some large unpredictable bumps, and you may get some air! Children who ride in car seats are welcome, but they will need to stay in their car seats.
Karen was our driver and explained the logistics before we headed out. It’s a short drive to the beach, but a decently long one on the sand. It’s about 5 miles on the sand before you even get to the horses’ habitat. We were surprised at the number of cars that were on the beach – parked in the middle. People set up their tents, pop-up changing rooms, coolers, and blankets in the middle of the beach in a nice row.
You can tell that people are allowed to drive on the beach
Upon arrival at the habitat, we took a small break for Karen to tell us about the horses. The Outer Banks is nicknamed the graveyard of the Atlantic because of all the shipwrecks that happen off-shore due to the ever-changing sand bars. Karen explained that in order to get the ships off the bars they had to remove some of their heavier objects – one of them being horses. Don’t worry, they weren’t too far from shore, so the horses made it to land. There used to be between 500-750 horses on the island, but they were considered a nuisance, so they announced that people could come and take a few for free. This made their numbers plummet to under 100. Due to the protections that currently exist, the numbers have started to grow and the herd is about 125 horses strong.
The horses are wild animals, which means they poop wherever they want, and you’ll see it throughout the drive. They are free to roam in the wildlife preserve, near houses, and on the beach. Since we went in the middle of the day I was hoping they’d be hanging out by the water cooling off, but they weren’t. These were my expectations also because of the promotional materials from numerous companies – horses enjoying the beach. However, we didn’t see a single horse on the beach.
Instead, the horses were standing next to houses as if they lived there. We didn’t see a herd of horses, but rather a few here or there. That’s one of the problems with wild animals – they never do what you want them to do! Don’t hold that against them though, or the tour company.
Despite that, I was still disappointed in seeing the horses. Probably because my expectations were high due to social media.
If you want to see the wild horses in the Outer Banks, I want you to be more prepared than I was.
Once you get to the preserve and you see the cars along the beach, the next thing to notice is the number of houses. This wasn’t a sporadic house here and there but rather felt like a neighborhood. Road signs (even though the roads weren’t paved), house names, yards, and fences. It felt awkward being in a truck with 14 other people looking at each house for horses like I was invading privacy. I couldn’t imagine living there, having tourists come every day during the summer to look around my house.
We saw a total of 11 horses on our 2-hour drive. Mostly one or two horses near the houses. One group of four was taking a nap together. One had three adults and a calf in someone’s yard. Since they are wild animals, it is illegal to get within 50 feet of the horses. Karen was kind enough to make sure both sides of the truck had ample time to see the horses and take pictures.
While the tour was a unique experience on the island, I’m not sure I would do it again. The staff at Corolla Wild Horse Tours was knowledgeable about the horses and were very kind. You can’t control any wild animals, so I don’t blame the horses either – they were just trying to get shade – and who wouldn’t in the heat of the sun?
Can I see the Wild Horses in the Outer Banks on my own?
Yes! If you have the right car. It requires driving on sand, so you want to be sure your car can handle that. Before pulling up to the sand, there is an air pump so you can let air out of your tires and refill when you’re done. Along the stretch of beach you’ll see plenty of people with cars, grills, tents, beach supplies, all enjoying the miles of beach.
Final Thoughts on the Wild Horses of Corolla
Who knows, if I did it again, maybe all 120 horses would be swimming in the ocean? I don’t know. I do know that I wish I knew more about what to expect on the tour. If you decide to do the trip, I hope the horses are out in force. Even if they aren’t, I do hope you enjoy the tour of the island and learn something new.