Adventure U.S.

Corolla Wild Horses: What to Expect on a Tour

If you want to see the wild horses of Corolla, North Carolina, you should book a tour with a local guide because the northernmost beaches are accessible only with a 4×4 off-road vehicle. 

Corolla’s wild horses are majestic. They are believed to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs brought over by ship by the conquistadors in the 15th century.

“For centuries, wild Banker horses outnumbered humans on the Outer Banks. The original stock was brought to the New World by the Spanish in the 1500s.”

Corolla Wild Horse Fund

These equines have never been saddled or ridden by humans. 

They have not been domesticated.

They subsist on beach vegetation and local fresh-water sources.

Federal Protection

Fortunately, these federally-protected wild horses roam in their natural habitat of the Currituck Outer Banks. 

By ordinance, you must stay 50 feet away from the wild horses. Feeding, luring, or peting the horses is against the law. Signs everywhere warn of a $500 fine. 

“Whether roaming the sand-streets or enjoying the fine sea mist on the shores of Corolla, these horses are free to wander as they please.”

Visit Currituck

Wild Horse Tour Operators

If you want to see the wild horses, visit the off-road beaches of Corolla, which are located near Historic Corolla Park and include a lighthouse you climb. ( Currituck Beach Lighthouse is one of seven lighthouses in the Outer Banks (OBX) that you should visit on your summer vacation. The lighthouses are located quite a distance from each other; it might take you multiple trips to the region. Check out my report on Cape Lookout Lighthouse.) 

Multiple tour operators exist. You can order (or download) the Corolla, Carova & The Mainland travel brochure from the Currituck Outer Banks, NC visitors center’s website. They list seven wild horse tour providers: Back Beach Wild Horse Tours, Back Country Safari Tours, Bob’s Wild Horse Tours, Corolla Outback Adventures, LTD, Corolla Wild Horse Tours, Hummer Adventure Tours, and Wild Horse Adventure Tours.

I booked my tour with Wild Horse Adventure Tours. A ticket for an adult (ages 13+) costs $65. (A child’s ticket (ages 12 & under) costs $45. Tours start at 9 am in the spring and run through 5:30 pm. Eight different times were offered.

Now I was required to arrive at 1:30 pm (30 minutes before the tour left at 2 pm). We were transported in a Hummer. The two-hour tour involves searching for wild horses on the most northern beaches of Currituck Outer Banks.

Description of Tour

This otherworldly place consists of a stretch of beach where you can drive your car next to the ocean. Instead of an exit to enter the residential neighborhoods of outer Corolla, you drive over sand dunes to see where humans and horses reside together.

These tall multi-million dollar beach mansions hunker down in their sandy landscapes. There are no barns or grazing paddocks for the wild horses.

I did see some heavily forested lots set between the beach houses. Since 2015, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund has purchased nine parcels of land within the 7,544 acres on the 4×4 to prime habitat. This is crucial for the long-term survival of the wild Banker horses.

Learning about the Wild Horse

My guide talked for two hours (almost continuously) about the history of wild horses, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, Corolla, and Carova. It was never dull. 

Some of the information shocked me, but it is crucial to educate visitors.

A wild horse died because he choked on an apple left behind on the beach. Although a domesticated horse might enjoy an apple or carrot, they are not typical food for a wild horse.

The son of Amadeus Sr. ate an apple; it became lodged in his stomach. He had three or four mares in his harem. After the horse went over to the mainland for medical treatment, he could never return to live with this herd.

Another wild horse was run over and left to die when a driver hit and abandoned the equine on the beach in the middle of the night.

Wild Horse Sighting: Star

There is no guarantee that you will see a Corolla wild horse on your tour. The guides have a prescribed route but will also detour if they receive word from other guides about a sighting.

I was the lucky beneficiary on my afternoon tour. Our guide drove us to a neighborhood where we saw Ringo Star (the stallion) and his harem.

The stallion completely ignored us as he grazed on the tree leaves.

Four other mares ate vegetation in the front yard of the beach house. The wild horses never turned their heads or looked up at us.

Our guide slowly drove past the harem, then turned around and drove back. Each side of the vehicle had a close-up view, and we were ecstatic.

We only saw these five horses during our two-hour drive around Corolla and Corova.

Corolla Wild Horse History

It is hard to believe that these wild horses still roam the beaches of Corolla 500 years after arriving on North America’s shores.

According to the Wild Horse Fund, a Spanish conquistador named Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon landed in 1526. He brought over Spanish mustangs to set up the colony. 

“He landed at Rich John the Baptist (thought to have been Cape Fear), but his attempt to settle the coast of the Carolinas was ultimately unsuccessful. The two ships he brought most likely left eighty to one hundred Colonial Spanish mustangs behind.”

Dwindling Wild Horse Population

The wild horses once outnumbered humans due to Corolla’s inaccessibility to the mainland.

According to National Geographic, in May 1926, 5,000-6,000 wild horses lived on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

A century later, 110 wild horses roam Corolla. According to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, “ .  .  . their population has significantly decreased, primarily due to development and issues that arise from a growing population.”

No Refuge

Unlike the wild horses, which roam freely and are protected at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, the Corolla horses roam in housing developments. Over two-thirds of the off-road grazing area is privately owned.

Thankfully, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund partially safeguards the wild horses due to its land preservation initiative:

“As protectors of the herd, the Fund is dedicated to a long-term, multi-faceted approach to save the Banker horses from extinction in the wild. The approach includes breed conservation in the form of DNA research, increased education and advocacy efforts, maintaining cooperative relationships with county, state, and federal agencies, partnering with community leaders, real estate companies, and local businesses, and this major undertaking to acquire and preserve as much wild habitat as possible.”

Making a Donation

Ordinary citizens can help in multiple ways. You can donate to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund or start your own fundraiser online through your social media accounts or email.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund is part of the Wild Horse Management Agreement, which protects Corolla wild horses.

Corolla Wild Horse Protection Act

To learn more about the Corolla wild horses, read the U.S. legislation that set up this organization in 2015. I quote below key facts from the COROLLA WILD HORSES PROTECTION ACT introduced in the 114th Congress (1st session):

“There is evidence that Spanish explorers introduced Corolla horses to the Currituck Outer Banks 500 years ago.

In 2007, the National Horse of the Americas Registry recognized and registered these horses as Colonial Spanish Mustangs. The Corolla horses are a key part of North Carolina’s heritage and are recognized as the state horse.

Today, the herd is comprised of about 83 animals that live on approximately 7,544 acres of public and private lands. Of the total acreage, 4,671 acres are privately owned; 2,495 acres are part of the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge (NWR); 326 acres are found in the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve; and 51 acres are owned by The Nature Conservancy.

In 1988, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund (CWHF) was established to support Spanish mustangs in the wild and to educate the public about the history of the herd.

The Fund was also instrumental in the enactment of a 1989 ordinance that made it unlawful for any person to lure, attract, or entice a wild horse to come within 50 feet of any person or for any person to lure or entice a wild horse out of a wild horse sanctuary.

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  • Tish
    March 30, 2024 at 1:23 pm

    Terri that information you gave is amazing!!
    I am unfamiliar with that area of North Carolina. I plan on visiting some day
    Beautiful Horses
    Thanks

    • Terri
      March 30, 2024 at 3:42 pm

      It is worth the trip! Even though I only saw 5 horses, I am still glad that I took the tour. The guide was fantastic.

  • Jen at Local Love & Wanderlust
    March 30, 2024 at 3:21 pm

    I wasn’t aware of these horses before, lots of interesting information here. Thanks for sharing!

    • Terri
      March 30, 2024 at 3:41 pm

      I think a lot of people aren’t aware of the wild horses unless they vacation in the Outer Banks. The wild ponies of Chincoteague are more famous due to the children’s book.

  • Jasmina
    March 30, 2024 at 4:27 pm

    I’ve actually never seen wild horses and there’s so many interesting information in this post. Thank you for sharing!

    • Terri
      March 30, 2024 at 9:03 pm

      You are welcome. I am so glad that I cound educate you on these wild horses. I was so lucky to get photos of Star and his harem.

  • Tara | Silly Little Kiwi
    March 30, 2024 at 5:54 pm

    Wow! I had no idea this was something that existed! Amazing!

    • Terri
      March 30, 2024 at 9:02 pm

      It is fascinating. These wild horses have thrilled on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for over 500 years!

  • galatia savva
    March 30, 2024 at 6:49 pm

    wow, I enjoyed reading this! fascinating information, and I’m so glad to see them roaming free, even though sadly we still manage to harm them even by accident as you mentioned above.
    will pin for future travels, and I hope they continue to roam free for generations to come

    • Terri
      March 30, 2024 at 9:01 pm

      Oh thank you so much! I was so excited to tell this story about the wild horses of Corolla. I am fascinated by their history.

  • Margaret McKneely
    March 30, 2024 at 6:57 pm

    I’ve been to the OBX many times but I have yet to go see the wild horses! Definitely something still on my bucket list! This tour sounds like a great option to learn about them.

    • Terri
      March 30, 2024 at 9:01 pm

      I have been visiting the Outer Banks since I was a teenager. But I never managed to book this tour. I highly encourage you to do it. You’ll learn so much and hopefully see some wild horses!

  • Sharyn
    March 30, 2024 at 7:39 pm

    It would be wonderful to see wild horses. What an interesting history and story of them.

    • Terri
      March 30, 2024 at 8:59 pm

      I have always been fascinated by the wild horses in Chincoteague since reading the children’s book. So naturally I had to take this tour to learn about the wild horses of Corolla.

  • Linda (LD Holland)
    March 30, 2024 at 8:44 pm

    I never thought of looking for a tour to see wild horses when we travel. Interesting to know we could do this when we finally get to North Carolina this summer. We will have to visit the Outer Banks and check out the wild horses of Coralla. Although I understand there is no guarantee we would see them on a tour with only 87 animals still wandering wild.

    • Terri
      March 30, 2024 at 8:58 pm

      Luckily there are actually 110 wild horses in the herd. A new foal was born in February. But you should come prepared that you might not see a wild horse on your tour. They are beautiful creatures. I wish you good luck with a sighting.

  • Meghan
    March 31, 2024 at 7:28 am

    I love Outer Banks and seeing the wild horses is such a special experience while there! I think it’s really interesting to look at the differences between Chincoteague and Outer Banks too. Even though they both have wild horses, the experience is different!

    • Terri
      March 31, 2024 at 8:02 am

      OBX has always been my happy place since I was a little girl. OBX is The Beach for me. I am so glad that I took the wild horse tour to learn more about their situation. It is so different from how the wild horses live on Assateague.

  • Anja
    March 31, 2024 at 7:57 am

    Love horses! I would definitely visit if I were visiting North Carolina. Love that they are protected and are given a sheltered habitat.

    • Terri
      March 31, 2024 at 7:59 am

      I wish they had a protected reserve without humans living near them. But the Corolla Wild Horse Fund does a great job trying to safeguard them.

  • Laureen Lund
    March 31, 2024 at 8:15 am

    Great post. I completely forgot about these horses…I saw them about 30 years ago! Glad to see they are still there and protected!

    • Terri
      March 31, 2024 at 2:53 pm

      30 years ago! Wow! You must have owned a 4 wheel vehicle to access the northernmost Corolla beaches to see the wild horses.

  • Curls en Route
    March 31, 2024 at 11:43 am

    Woaah! That was pretty insightful!

    • Terri
      March 31, 2024 at 2:52 pm

      So glad you enjoyed!

  • Marina
    March 31, 2024 at 3:50 pm

    I had no idea about those beautiful horses, thank you for all of this useful information!

  • Erica Forrest
    March 31, 2024 at 3:55 pm

    This was a very interesting read, I learned a lot! What a great tour idea for visiting North Carolina. I also pinned it to one of my travel education boards to share with others.

    • Terri
      April 2, 2024 at 8:20 am

      Erica thank you so much for sharing to your travel education boards. This is an ideal place to visit due to the horse museum and historic Corolla village. I highly recollect the wild horse tour.

  • Teja
    March 31, 2024 at 8:07 pm

    I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that wild horses might not be able to manage apples. Also interesting that North Carolina has a state horse! Presumably it has something else as a state animal?

  • Pam
    March 31, 2024 at 9:04 pm

    Seeing the horses is such a magical thing to do in Corolla – we love Corolla! Between the horses and the historic park, there’s more to it than the beach!

    • Terri
      April 2, 2024 at 8:10 am

      Corolla is a magical place. I am so glad that they haven’t ruined it with high rises, strip malls, and excessive development. But it is tooo cold to visit in March!