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Shackleford Banks Horses, Shackleford Banks, North Carolina, July 1999

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Shackleford Banks Horses
A Local Legacy

The oldest documented population in North America isn't human, but a group of wild horses living in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina.

Shackleford Banks is a small island off the coast of North Carolina. A herd of about 100 feral, or wild, horses lives on this island. Although they are called horses, because they are smaller, these animals are more like ponies.

According to some legends, the Shackleford Banks herd is descended from Spanish mustangs -- horses that escaped from shipwrecks hundreds of years ago. But at one time people did live on the island, so the horses simply could have been left behind when the settlers went to the mainland. In 1998, the U.S. government passed a law that protects the Shackleford Banks horses because they are so rare.

The Shackleford Banks horses are important because they let us see how horses live when they are wild and roam free. For each group of horses, there is a stallion (adult male) that leads a group of mares (adult females) and their foals (young horses). A stallion has to be strong enough to defend his mares against other single stallions. The horses socialize with each other through grooming. Two horses will stand together, head to tail, and use their tails to keep flies out of each other's face.

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