Living The Good Life At Cape Lookout National Seashore: Mare 63 Turns 30

Living seems to be good for feral horses on Shackleford Banks at Cape Lookout National Seashore, where one mare reached her 30th birthday this summer. File photo from Shackleford Banks by Kurt Repanshek.

Feral horses at Cape Lookout National Seashore live to an average age of 11, according to the National Park Service, but there's a mare on Shackleford Banks that blitzed past that birthday and has counted 30 of them overall.

Seven of the 108 horses in the herd on Shackleford Banks are now in their 20s, according to seashore staff. This is considered a good “old” age for horses who fend entirely for themselves; wild horses don’t often live this long.

Shackleford horses are not provided supplemental feed, water, or immunizations. The seven oldest horses are females and have all been given birth control for one or more years. Contraception gives mares a break from foaling and contributes to their living longer. Contraception also can slow population increases that may result in the management action of young horses’ being removed.

The old-timer who reached this milestone is mare No. 63. During her lifetime, she’s given birth to 11 foals. One of her colts went on to become an alpha stallion and sire two offspring.

Because 63 was so prolific and the horse population was high during some years, several of her offspring were removed along with other youngsters. Removed horses go to the park’s herd co-managers, the Foundation for Shackleford Horses, and can be adopted into forever homes by the public.

The old mare’s home range is in one of the quieter areas of the island. She is likely to be seen alone. She appears to choose this quiet location and solitude.

This milestone has been documented thanks to park and foundation record-keeping. Some of the 20+-year-old mares should reach this milestone in upcoming years