There have been many inhabitants of The Outer Banks over the
years. Its earliest residents, Native
Americans, made their villages up and down the length of The Banks, drawing
what they needed to survive from the land and sea. The Native Americans were eventually pushed
out by immigrant Europeans seeking a new land in which to make their
fortune. These immigrants would go on to
become the ancestors of the Outer Bankers who call the islands home today. There is, however, another group living on
the Outer Banks who have been there as long or longer some would argue, as
anyone else has been. This third party
is, of course, the wild horses who call the Outer Banks home.
Banker ponies, as they’ve come to be called, have been milling around the dunes
and marsh of the The Outer Banks for over 400 years. These hearty and resilient horses are
descendant of Spanish Mustangs, thought to have arrived here as early as the
1520’s. They have become such a part of
North Carolina and Outer Banks culture that they have been recognized as the
official state horse of North Carolina. These
horses can be found in the largest concentrations on Shackleford Banks, the
southern most island of the Banks, Ocracoke Island, and the beaches of Carolla
on The Outer Banks northern end.
these horses came to be here is a subject of some debate. The two most popular stories date from around
the same time period, and while neither can be confirmed with absolute certainty,
they seem to match up fairly well with the earliest records of the wild
horses. The first theory claims that the
horses were left here by one of North Carolinas earliest explorers, a Spaniard
by the name of Lucas Vasquez de Allyon.
Vasquez was under orders to explore and to colonize the eastern seaboard
of the newly discovered North American continent. It is possible that some of these expeditions
landed on the Outer Banks. The local
inhabitants of the Banks at the time however were none too keen on the idea of
new neighbors, and Vasquez’s men were driven from the islands and in their
haste to flee failed to round up all of the mustangs that they had brought with
them. Whether or not this theory is
true, no one can say for sure.
second version which takes place only shortly after the first credits Richard
Greenville with bringing the ponies to The Outer Banks. Greenville was an English commander serving
under Sir Walter Raleigh, tasked with exploring and trading up and down the
American coast from The West Indies to the colonies of Carolina and Virginia
and back across the Atlantic to England.
It is during one of these trading expeditions that one of Greenville’s
ships, The Tyger, loaded with sugar, spices, and a number of Spanish mustangs
ran aground on The Diamond Shoals and was lost to the sea. The mustangs who survived the shipwreck
managed to swim to shore, and have lived among the islands of The Outer Banks
what makes these horses so captivating is what they represent to us. There are few expressions of freedom as
widely recognized as a group of horses in full gallop, charging their way
across the landscape with reckless abandon.
When you take this iconic image and add the crystalline spray of salt
water as the hooves beat the sand, the sun sinking lazily away in the west,
something is stirred in the heart and imagination. We can feel ourselves in those wild beasts;
we feel the cool mist of the ocean on our cheeks and the sand beneath our
feet. We long to run, to forget the
worry and stress of our daily lives and simply live free, with no responsibilities
or restrictions to keep us from going where and doing what we want to do. It taps into something primal in our nature,
something that’s always just below the surface.
We see them, and we want to be them.
To be free. Truly free.