Ocracoke Ponies

Banker ponies in their pasture on Ocracoke Island.
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.

Banker ponies in their pasture on Ocracoke Island.


Information Review

Researchers Kent Redford, a conservation practitioner and scientist with Archipelago Consulting, and Elaine Leslie, retired chief of biological resources for the National Park Service, are in the process of finalizing an information review of the Ocracoke horse herd to provide park managers with 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 may be used to help inform future management of the Ocracoke horse herd.

Link to DRAFT information review

If you have documents that may help inform the information review, send an email to caha_general_information@nps.gov by December 15, 2023.


Last updated: December 1, 2023

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Cape Hatteras National Seashore
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Manteo, NC 27954


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