Got a thing for horses? Visit Shackleford Banks when you travel to Cape Lookout National Seashore to see horses descended from Spanish stallions brought to the New World centuries ago.
According to the national seashore, "DNA analysis shows the Shacklefords to be Colonial Spanish horses, but that doesn't necessarily mean they were brought to this area directly from Spain. Spanish horses were traded to other countries in Europe and to other parts of North America during the Spanish Colonial Period."
"They group with (are closely related to) the domestic-bred Venezuelan Criollo, Puerto Rican Paso Fino, and Marsh Tacky horses into a cluster that contains primarily South American breeds of Iberian origin," the seashore adds. "These horses can be traced back to the Iberian Peninsula--an area which includes Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and part of France."
How did the horses get out on Shackleford Banks?
"Perhaps the most interesting (theory) is that these horses are descendants of animals which swam ashore from ships that ran aground in the shallow waters surrounding the park (or that were thrown overboard to lighten the ship and prevent a wreck)," the seashore notes.
"Overland traders may have played a part in distributing horses through this area. More recently, mainland and island residents let their horses (and cattle, sheep & goats) roam free on the islands."
While you sometimes will see some of the horses while you ride the passenger ferry to visit the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, being dropped off at Shackleford for a few hours or an entire day to hike and look for the horses is a great way to enjoy the national seashore.
Spotting the horses isn't terribly hard, as they are spread out across the landscape. There also are some great birding opportunities here, and for those who want a day at the beach without crowds, the swimming, fishing, and shell-collecting on Shackleford is great.
You also can enjoy the island and its horses by joining one of the seashore's rangers for a day trip to Shackleford. These programs, dubbed "Horse Sense and Survival Tours," are offered on various dates in the summer and early fall months. They run roughly four hours.
Check the seashore's website to see when these tours are offered.