The banker horse is a breed of feral horse that can be found in the Outer Banks area of North Carolina. This breed is a descendant of the Spanish horse and the foundation stock is thought to have been brought to the America’s during the 16th century. It is thought that these horses may have become feral after surviving shipwrecks or after being abandoned during exploration or settlement expeditions. Although these horses roam free, they are not true wild horses because they are descended from domestic horses.
The banker horse is relatively small in stature, reaching a height between 13 to 14.3 hands and a weight between 800 to 1,000 pounds. It comes in a variety of colors including bay, brown, chestnut, and dun. Individuals of this breed have broad foreheads and oval shaped cannon bones, which is indicative of strength. It is known for its docile and friendly temperament and is easy to maintain. Bankers can be adopted and used as mounts for children and pleasure riding.
The population of banker horses, which has been assessed to be about four hundred, resides on a few islands in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where vegetation and water sources are limited. This is thought to be a factor in the small stature of the breed, although domestic bankers that feed on manufactured horse food tend to be only slightly larger. Because water is not often available, it depends upon its food to retain much of its moisture. It has been seen digging holes in order to hold rain water and reach water under the ground, which are its other main sources of water intake, but in hard times it will resort to drinking sea water.
The National Park Service, which helps manage the banker horse population, has expressed concern about the breed’s impact on the health of the islands in inhabits. Studies have shown that it does not damage native plant life by consuming it but rather by trampling certain species and the greatest harm to other animal species comes from their presence near the nesting sites of sea turtles and birds.
Despite the fact that the banker horse is not native to the islands, it is allowed to remain and is managed by several organizations. The herd on Ocracoke Island is managed by confinement in an area that contains 180 acres, which protects them from major roadways and protects the rest of the island from over grazing. The herd on Shackleford is jointly managed by the National Park Service and by various other organizations, like the Foundation for Shackleford Horses. On this island, the population is managed by careful adoptions and by administering a contraceptive vaccine. Management on this island also consists of testing for the deadly disease equine infectious anemia and moving horses into separate herds on different islands.
The herd on Currituck Banks was once endangered by its close proximity to humans, but it has now been placed in a protected area of 1,800 acres. This herd is managed by the adoptions of fillies, yearlings, and geldings. The population residing in the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve in the Rachel Carson area may have been brought there by people using the area for their livestock or they may have traveled there from neighboring islands. These horses are managed by the state, who prevent over population using a birth control program.
Image Caption: Five of the wild Spanish Mustangs in Corolla, North Carolina. Credit: Kevincollins123/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)