New guide reveals the secret to petting wild horses on the Outer Banks

Mark Price

The wild mustangs that roam North Carolina’s Outer Banks have long enticed tourists, many of whom can’t resist the urge to try and pet the horses.

It’s with those people in mind that the National Park Service posted an official “Wild Pony Petting Chart” on Thursday, revealing for the first time where exactly the animals can be touched without risk of getting kicked, bitten or trampled.

What’s the secret spot?

Well, close inspection of the tongue-in-cheek guide reveals there isn’t one. Each of the horse’s body parts apparently comes with its own warning label, particularly the rump which is guaranteed to result in an “extended hospital stay.”

The point is essentially to show how dangerous they are, even to the most well meaning of tourists.

“For your safety, as well as that of the horses, stay at least a bus length (50 feet) away from the horses at all times,” concludes a post of the guide by Cape Lookout National Seashore.

More than 200 wild horses roam the barrier islands off North Carolina. The herds are both a tourist attraction and a notorious threat, with a propensity to turn violent as the stallions fight over turf or mates.

However, warnings to stay clear of the horses are frequently ignored, in spite of laws and $500 penalties.

On Saturday, the nonprofit Foundation for Shackleford Horses posted an alert of one such incident, asking for help finding the culprit.

“We have received a report of a foal being harassed and corralled by a visitor on Shackleford within the last 30 minutes,” the post said. “If you observe someone harassing horses... please take photos of the incident. If the visitor has a boat, pictures showing the registration number of the boat are particularly helpful.”

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund has shared similar alerts this summer, which recently attracted the attention of the Currituck County Sheriff’s Office. The department announced Aug. 5 that it was cracking down on the problem, taking a “no warnings” approach to issuing tickets to offenders, OBX Today reported.

“If this keeps up someone is going to get hurt, and/or horses will have to be removed from the wild,” said Corolla herd manager Meg Puckett in a Facebook post.

“That’s why it is so important that we bring attention to the situation and ask that people understand why approaching, petting, and feeding is harmful.”