I woke up early, excited to explore the area that we were staying in for the weekend, but everyone was, as usual, still asleep. Slipping on a rain jacket and walking shoes I slipped out of the guest house and walked into the village. It was a cold, misty morning and most of the shops were still closed with only a few lights burning in windows. I left the main road, following a path that led through a rocky open area into a thicket of forest. Here I wandered through the shady woods, following a small stream until the path emerged into an overgrown field dotted with wild flowers. It was there that I saw her, peacefully grazing at the far edge of the field. I walked cautiously closer, not wanting to scare her off and spied a small foal grazing behind its mum. Movements in the forest behind them indicated that another horse was probably grazing in the shadows of the towering trees. As I edged a few steps closer the mare looked up in my direction, regarded me with gentle eyes, before dropping her head back down to the grass. Amidst the gentle patter of the rain I could hear the familiar equine sound of her teeth ripping mouthfuls of grass from the ground and grinding it slowly in her mouth. A motorbike engine on the road behind us startled her though, her head snapping up, ears flicking left and right, before she whinnied and walked slowly off into the forest, disappearing into the mist, her foal trailing behind her.
Wild horses tend to be skittish of people on foot, so a far more reliable way to see them is by booking a wild horse tour when visiting the Outer Banks Islands in North Carolina. The resident wild mustangs have roamed this area for 500 years. Originally of Spanish stock, they are believed to be survivors from ships that were wrecked on this treacherous stretch of the Atlantic coastline.
A reserve to keep the horses safe has been established on the Outer Banks north of Corolla and the wild horse tours take you into this area on open-air, safari-type game viewing trucks. The tours explore the beautiful coastline and wooded areas of the island and take visitors into the horse reserve where the mustangs can often be viewed running along the wide beaches and playing in the surf together.
In order to keep both horses and visitors safe, the Outer Banks has introduced a number of laws relating to horse interaction. These state that you must stay at least 50 feet away from the horses and that they may not be fed. As the horse’s have adapted their diet to the local environment, they can become seriously ill or die if they are fed human food, such as chips or pizza, so feeding them is prohibited. The horses are wild but, as they are naturally very social animals, will become easily accustomed to contact with humans if they are enticed into interactions. This may lead to the horses starting to approach and follow cars which could become dangerous for both people and the horses, so this is expressly not permitted.