The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks
Text by Carmine Prioli and Photographers by Scott Taylor
There is an island at the remote southern end of North Carolina’s Outer Banks where you might see wild horses playing in the surf, or grazing within view of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, or scattering into a rare, weather-beaten maritime forest. The horse herd on Shackleford Banks has long been a subject of fascination. Today, it is both one of the wildest and most controlled animal populations on earth. An array of scientists sees to it that the horses are born, battle for social rank, forage for food, suffer the elements, and die without human interference. At the same time, to protect the island from overgrazing, these scientists practice the 21st-century paradox of “wilderness management”—a careful plan of genetic testing and immunocontraception to maintain a target population of 120 to 130 healthy horses. Mystery and controversy have always surrounded the Shackleford horses. Some experts offer evidence that they are the descendants of horses cast off foundering Spanish galleons. Others cite proof that they are of much more recent origin. Many people see them as symbols of bedrock American values like freedom and self-sufficiency. But over the years, some have argued that they pose a threat to the island’s ecology and should be banned as feral goats, sheep, and cattle were long ago. There is even disagreement over what they are. Scientists say they’re horses, but many people will forever insist they’re ponies. The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks is a comprehensive overview of the famous herd—its possible origins and development, its hardiness in the face of hurricanes, its complex relationship with humans, its hard-won protection within Cape Lookout National Seashore. The book’s plentiful illustrations—both archival and contemporary—show why the Shackleford horses are so beloved among visitors to the Outer Banks. *A portion of the proceeds from The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks will be contributed to the Foundation for Shackleford Horses, Inc.