The Wild Mustangs in Carova

The Corolla Wild Mustangs

Seeing a wild mustang grazing in the sea grass behind the dunes or a stallion and his harem (that’s the official name) playing the surf is a memory that makes a vacation unforgettable.

The best way to see the Corolla Wild Mustangs is with a guided tour. There are a number of tour operators based in Corolla and they do a very good job of taking people to the best places to see the horses.

In the summer, the horses frequently come to the beach and wade into the ocean. Most experts feel they are doing that for the same reason humans do—it’s hot and the water cools them down.

It is important to remember these are wild horses; they’re not vicious or cruel, but if they feel threatened or a mare feels her colt is not safe, they will react.

There is a Currituck County ordinance requiring people to stay 50’ from the horses. County police will enforce that ordinance.

Finally—do not feed the horses. Several horses have died over the past few years because they were fed.

The horses are managed by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. They have some great informaton on their website and Facebook page.

Are They Really Spanish Mustangs and How Did They Get There?

To answer the first question question first…Yes, they are.

Genetic testing and an examination of their physical characteristics have established that the Corolla Wild Horses are a direct link to the original steeds of the Spanish Conquistadores.

Physically the Spanish Colonial mustangs are small horses—700-900 pounds. They are more likely than other breeds to have five instead of six lumbars in their spine; that is considered an indicator that the horse may be a Spanish Colonial mustang but is not considered definitive.

Genetic testing of the herd has proved they are a direct link to the Spanish Mustangs, although there are other genetic markings in their history. As an example, at one point the Corolla wild horses apparently mated with Shetland ponies—probably in the 1920s and 1930s when there was a small Shetland pony operation in the area.

How they got here is a mystery that may never be solved.

A popular theory holds that they escaped from sinking ships. That is highly doubtful.

In the 16th century when Spain was expanding its empire, horses were kept below deck in slings. The belief was that their legs were not strong enough to withstand the swaying of the ship. For a horse to have made it to land as a ship was foundering, someone would have had to go below decks and set it free. A highly unlikely scenario.

A more likely possibility has Spanish explorers bringing the horses with them as they explored the East Coast of the United States. It is possible that when reboarding ships, the mustangs were left behind.

There was also an unsuccessful attempt at creating a settlement in South Carolina in 1526. Led by Spanish nobleman Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón, the colony was an abysmal failure. De Ayllon died in October of that year and the settlement was under constant attack from the Native American tribes, angered by the Spanish policy of capturing and enslaving them. When the colonists left there is no record they brought their livestock with them.

An intriguing possibility is the Outer Banks horses arrived at the same time as the ill-fated Lost Colony expedition.

On the way to the Roanoke colony in 1585, Richard Greenville, leader of the expedition, stopped in the West Indies to buy livestock. The purchase included stallions and mares.

As the ship approached Roanoke Inlet from the south, his ship, the Tiger, ran aground. The grounding was either at Ocracoke or farther north around what is today Buxton. To refloat the ship, all of the livestock was cast overboard. If the horses were able to eke out a living, there is a possibility that the Lost Colony holds at least a part of the answer.