Most often referred to as Ocracoke ponies, Banker horses have been documented on Ocracoke since the 1730s, although many believe and some evidence supports the popular belief that the horses arrived much earlier with Spanish explorers during the 16th century. Throughout Ocracoke history these small, but sturdy horses have served the residents, the U.S. Lifesaving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, and their descendents continue to capture the attention of visitors to the island.
In the past, the number of wild horses on Ocracoke reached as many as 300. During the late 1950s, Ocracoke Boy Scouts took care of the horses, having the nation’s only mounted troop. In 1957, when the highway was built, the horses were moved to pens to protect them from injury due to increased traffic and to preserve the small island’s natural resources. In the early 1960s the care of the horses was designated to the National Park Service.
Today, the aging Ocracoke herd is no longer wild, by any stretch of the imagination. The horses are fed twice a day and receive veterinary care. The population of the herd has dwindled to 17 horses due to natural causes and two stallions have been borrowed from Shackleford Banks to try to increase the number of horses.
If you are visiting Ocracoke Island, do stop by the Pony Pen to pay a visit to these deserving descendants of the Outer Banks icons of the past, although do not expect to see horses that appear to running free and wild. On most days, you will be able to see at least a few horses from the National Park Service viewing platform, which is located on the sound side of Route 12 between Ocracoke Village and the Cape Hatteras Ferry.