Ocracoke Horses

ocracoke ponies
Banker ponies in their pasture on Ocracoke Island.

Legend has it that the “Banker” horses of Ocracoke were left here by shipwrecked explorers in the 16th or 17th century. European ships commonly carried livestock to the New World, and if a ship ran aground near the coast, animals were thrown overboard to lighten the load, so the ship could be re-floated. The livestock were often left behind when the ship again set sail.

Horses, often referred to as Ocracoke ponies, have been documented on Ocracoke Island since the first European settlers came to stay in the 1730s. They've played a major role in the island’s history, serving residents as beasts of burden at work and play, in beach rides and races.

In the late 1950s, Ocracoke Boy Scouts cared for the horses and had the only mounted troop in the nation. By law, the free-roaming animals were penned in 1959 to prevent over-grazing and to safeguard them from traffic after the highway was built in 1957. The remaining herd has been cared for by the National Park Service since the early 1960s.

Ponies at water


Information Review

Under contract with Outer Banks Forever, Researchers Kent Redford, a conservation practitioner and scientist with Archipelago Consulting, and Elaine Leslie, retired chief of biological resources for the National Park Service, published an information review of the Ocracoke horse herd that provides a brief history and analysis of horses in North America, on the east coast, and in the park, along with a summary of National Park Service laws, regulations, and policies relevant to horses at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Results of the information review, along with all other information and input, may be used to help inform future management of the Ocracoke horse herd. The report does not necessarily reflect the views of the National Park Service.

View the information review of the Ocracoke horse herd, published March 2024.

Horse Management Plan

In light of sea level rise effects and in consideration of National Park Service management policies, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is preparing to develop a management plan for the Oracoke horses.

Public Meeting Notice: On May 21, 2024, Cape Hatteras National Seashore will seek input on the development of the horse management plan at a public meeting on Ocracoke Island. The purpose of the meeeting is to receive preliminary input in advance of the plan's development.

Meeting Details
Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Time: 1-2 p.m.
Location: Ocracoke Community Center, 999 Irvin Garrish Highway, Ocracoke

If the ferry isn't running due to inclement weather or road conditions, the meeting will be rescheduled for a later date.


Last updated: May 8, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1401 National Park Drive

Manteo, NC 27954


252 473-2111

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