Content Produced in Partnership with Visit Currituck
The buffalo may roam in the wild, wild west, but the storied Corolla wild horses in the Outer Banks are the real sight to behold on the East Coast. A mainstay in Currituck County for hundreds of years, the Northern Outer Banks is one of the few places in the continental United States where wild ponies still roam freely. Here's how to see the Corolla wild horses in Currituck County — plus a few things you should know about them before you go.
Said to have been brought over by Spanish explorers back in the 1500s and 1600s, the wild horses of Corolla have managed to keep a roughly 97 percent pure bloodline through the centuries. This is because of the relative isolation of the Northern Outer Banks. Docile and happy to while the days away among the live oaks, the herd was originally numbered in the hundreds. Today, there are about 100 horses that roam the Currituck Sound and northern beaches of Corolla. Thanks to the lack of natural predators and conservation efforts, experts hope to see the herd thrive to more than 130 within the next three to five years.
Though originally the wild horses had virtually the entirety of Corolla Beach to explore at their leisure, as the area became more developed, they were steadily pushed back to the northern sections of Corolla and Carova Beaches. Separated by a sound-to-sea fence to protect them from the cars and development along Corolla, the 4WD Carova Beach serves as a more than 7,500-acre sanctuary for the horses. Of that 7,500 acreage, only 3,300 of it is open to the public to observe the horses. Tight regulations ensure a 50-foot perimeter be placed between visitors and horses at all times, and sightseers are not permitted to pet, feed or ride the wild ponies.
Because of the lack of paved roads leading to Carova, the best way for first-time visitors to Corolla to see the horses — and to learn about them — is to opt for a 4WD guided tour with one of the local tour operators. With 6-10 people able to ride in what is essentially the backend of an open truck, the guides will explain how to spot where the horses are (look for the white birds in the distance), why the horses tend to gravitate toward the live oaks in the center of the island (it’s shaded) and explain what the horses eat (sea oats, not apples). If you opt for a tour, book early as they tend to sell out quickly in the summer. Visitors in the fall or spring, however, may be able to see the horses on multiple tours as there are smaller crowds in the area during that timeframe.
Able to expertly navigate the sandy beaches and tall dunes for the best views, the guides have a thorough understanding of the horses and their movements. As a result, you’ll learn plenty about the herd along the way. For example, locals and guides have given most of the horses Spanish names to honor their heritage. The exception is one horse named Steve. Easy to spot thanks to his flowing blonde mane, guides refer to him as the “Ken doll” of the ponies and wryly point out that he’ll preen and pose for the cameras whenever he spots one in the distance.
Locals and visitors who feel comfortable enough or who have visited the area before are more apt to take their own SUV or four-wheel drive vehicle onto Carova Beach. Reduced air in your tires will allow you to navigate the inlet at your leisure. Meanwhile, more adventurous (or private) guests could just as easily rent one of the many beach homes along the beachfront. Don’t be surprised if you see one or more of the wild mustangs in your front yard one morning either!
The best way to see the horses is to make plans to visit Currituck County. Corolla is the closest town to the entrance of Carova Beach. With plenty of restaurants, beach homes and guided horse tours to choose from, you'll find plenty to love about this section of the Outer Banks.