Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks

At the Southeaster Wildlife Expo earlier this year, a fellow photographer was telling me about the incredible Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks.  I immediately tucked it into my mental bucket list!

Shackleford Banks, the southern-most barrier island in Cape Lookout National Seashore, is home to a little over 100 wild horses. This is one of the few places left in the eastern United States where wild horses can still be found!

DNA studies prove they are descended from the Spanish mustangs brought to the Carolina coast by explorers beginning in the early 1500’s. Turned loose from shipwrecks, or left behind when explorers had to flee failed attempts at colonization, they adapted to the harsh environment.

These last descendants of a bygone era have survived in the wild, isolated on Shackleford and other coastal barrier islands away from the mainland for almost 500 years! Shackleford Banks has never been suitable for any significant human population, which has left it virtually pristine to this day, preserving a natural way of life for these beautiful animals.

On a break from a recent shoot in Wilmington, I had a chance to finally go out and look for the horses. A weathered old couple, just coming off the island when I arrived, hadn’t been able to find them. But with patience and perseverance, I finally came upon a small herd on the inner banks. Laying quietly in the sea oats, or settling down on the sandy shore…the horses soon acclimated to my presence, actually coming quite close at times.

It’s hard to describe the emotions of awe and wonder of being in the company of such wild, majestic, yet gentle creatures! I only regret that my time was limited. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to return and visit longer with these these gentle giants of another time and place…

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