Local News

Corolla Wild Horses Face Uncertain Future

Spanish Mustangs have survived on the Outer Banks for nearly 500 years. Now, they face their toughest hurdle -- tourists.

Posted Updated

COROLLA — Wild Spanish Mustangs were dropped off on the Outer Banks centuries ago when the Spanish planned to colonize the islands. Today, a new management plan calls for thinning the herd from more than 100 down to just 60, and the horses face an uncertain future.
The wild horses of Corolla, also known as bankers, have survived in the Outer Banks for nearly 500 years. Now they face their toughest hurdle. The beaches where the Spanish Mustangs landed so long ago are now filling up with tourists.

“I’ve worked with horses a good part of my life,” said Steve Rogers of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. “I’d say their biggest danger is us -- people.”

Rogers’ job is to educate the masses. He spends his summer days handing out brochures on the beaches and intercepting people trying to get to close to the animals.

“I just want to give you some information about the horses,” Rogers told a group of tourists. “You have to stay at least 50 feet away at all times and not feed them."

"Most of the folks who come here don’t know the rules," Rogers said.

Karen McCalpin, who runs the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, the group charged by the county to oversee and protect the horses, said the animals do not belong to anybody.

“They’re nobody’s horses,” she said. “They don’t belong to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. They don’t belong to the county.”

McCalpin routinely has to remove injured horses from the herd. The injuries are often caused by humans.

“We’ve had six that were intentionally shot,” McCalpin said.

The horses roam 12,000 acres or 11 miles of the island. Much of that land is privately owned and those owners continue to build.

“There are about 300 houses in that area, but there are 3,080 platted lots.” McCalpin said. “And certainly if all those were to be built out, I don’t know how long people and wild horses can co-exist. Probably not another five centuries unless we do more careful thinking about how we develop the rest of the other banks.”

Rogers and McCalpin want to see horses, houses and humans all get along. They are glad to see people admiring the horses, but they do not want to see people love them to death.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund has begun DNA testing of the horses to help better manage breeding and lineage. They are also thinning the herd through an adoption program, hoping to help the breed survive.

Currituck County commissioners are considering denying a request for $75,000 made by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund to take care of the herd. Commissioners said the group never repaid an prior $85,000 loan.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund said it will be hard to continue without the money because $75,000 is about one-third of the group's budget.


Copyright 2023 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.