The wild horses of Corolla have survived on the Outer Banks for almost 500 years. Seeing them walk along the beach or on top of the dunes at sunset is a treasured memory for visitors and residents alike. In the last 30 years though, the amount of traffic on the four-wheel drive beach and interactions with horses have skyrocketed.
The only protection that the horses have is in the form of a Currituck County ordinance establishing the laws surrounding the herd. The laws are designed to protect both humans and horses from each other. With the advent of social media however, evidence of lawbreaking is readily available to anyone who knows how to look for it.
This summer there were many posts across Facebook and Instagram of people taking “selfies” with horses. There were pictures and videos of people petting horses, as well as people feeding them too. When confronted, many claimed they were unaware of the laws that make all of these actions illegal.
Here is a handy guide to the laws protecting the wild horses and more importantly, why the laws are there.
Do Not Feed
It is illegal to feed the Corolla herd at all times. In their time on the Outer Banks, these horses have adapted to their unique home and only eat what grows naturally in their environment. This includes, sea grass, sea oats, acorns, and persimmons.
It does not include pizza and beer, though both of those items have been given to horses in the past. Even items fed to domestic horses normally can harm or potentially kill a member of the Corolla herd. These would include apples, carrots, and other fruits and vegetables.
It is because their digestive systems are so sensitive and cannot process non-native foods that makes feeding so dangerous. Watermelon has been found to be the cause of a few fatalities in the Corolla herd in the past few years. The rind becomes lodged in the horse’s intestine which becomes knotted and blocked as the animal tries to manually push it through the digestive system.
Without surgical intervention, the condition is fatal to the horse. Even with surgery, the herd size is diminished because of the rule that once a horse leaves the beach it is not allowed to return.
Do Not Touch
It is illegal to pet a wild horse in Corolla. This is a rule that is commonly challenged by those caught breaking it because the horse supposedly approached them. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund calls this behavior in a horse “habituation.”
Horses are very social animals and will become accustomed to contact with humans. If one person pets a horse, the next time that animal sees someone it will expect to get affection again and may approach. This is dangerous for both the person and the horse.
Once a member of the Corolla herd has been deemed habituated, it may be removed from the beach. Again, to never return.
Do Not Get Within 50 Feet
Obviously in order to pet a horse, you would be breaking the 50 foot rule. But this law needs to be addressed separately. It is illegal to be within 50 feet of a wild horse. This rule especially applies to beachgoers in the summer.
When the beach is very crowded in the heat of July and August, it is common for the horses to head to the ocean to get relief from the heat and flies. Often they will walk through many people to get to the water. In a case like this, it is expected that the beachgoers will move back and allow the horses to pass with a wide berth.
Unfortunately, many people have the attitude of “I was here first” and do not move out of the way. This is dangerous for all involved, especially in mating season when horse fights are a common sight.
Do Not Entice
This is a law that is often overlooked but can have long reaching consequences. It is illegal to entice or bait a wild horse into an interaction. Most often this occurs when people are driving around the 4×4 area of Corolla in hopes of getting pictures.
Trying to entice a wild horse to get closer to your car is dangerous for the occupants, the horse, and the car itself. Again, this can lead to a pattern where the animal will start approaching cars expecting interaction. Earlier this year, a horse was removed from the beach because he was so accustomed to cars that he was following them all the way to the beginning of NC-12.
All of these laws were put into effect for the safety of the public, and for the safety of the wild horses. People who break them may not think they are causing any great damage, but the effects can be long lasting. Hopefully with greater awareness, the need to remove horses from the beach because of human interaction will disappear.
For more information on the Outer Banks, check out our blog.