Hatteras & Ocracoke Islands, NC  - Vacation Travel Guide

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Hatteras & Ocracoke Area Features

Ocracoke Ponies

The National Park Service has been caring for the native ponies on Ocracoke Island since the early 1960s. It is commonly believed that the ponies arrived on the island in the 16th century from shipwrecks or were left by ships needing to lighten their load for passage through the shoaling inlets. The Ocracoke ponies, also known as Banker ponies, share a genetic link to “Old Spanish” horse genetics and are similar to the pony herds found on the Currituck Outer Banks and Shackleford Banks. Their unique characteristics include having one fewer lumbar vertebrae, one fewer rib, greater bone density, wide foreheads and strong, short necks.

There were once as many as 300 ponies roaming freely on the island. In the late 1950s Captain Marvin Howard, an Ocracoke native, formed the only mounted Boy Scout troop in the United States. Each Boy Scout was responsible for capturing, taming and caring for his own pony. The troop marched in parades and conducted their scouting activities all on the backs of their trusted ponies. Several members of the mounted scouts remain as residents on Ocracoke today. In the 1970s and 1980s park service law enforcement rangers used the ponies in mounted patrols. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the only park service unit to have utilized native ponies as service animals.

An area of approximately 180 acres was enclosed in 1959 to protect the island from overgrazing and to safeguard the ponies from traffic on NC Hwy 12. Today the Ocracoke herd consists of roughly 17 ponies. The ponies can be seen every day from two viewing platforms at the pony pens located seven miles north of Ocracoke village. The park service is thankful to have dedicated volunteers, many of whom have several years of service, to help with the daily feeding and care of the ponies.

If you’re interested in helping to support the Ocracoke pony herd, you can adopt a pony in person at the NPS Ocracoke Island Visitor Center located in the village of Ocracoke, or by mail. Donations are used exclusively to help defray the costs of veterinary care, feed and hay, and the repair of the pony pasture and facilities. Donors receive an 8"x10" photo and certificate of adoption with the pony’s name, age, and description in a presentation folder. Click here for Adopt-a-Pony information.

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