There is an amazing coastal town in North Carolina called Beaufort that once hosted Black Beard the pirate, and is the home of wild ponies that live on the islands across from the mainland. There are two islands that have wild ponies off the coast of Beaufort. Carrot Island is the closest to the mainland, and Shackleford Island is visible as well, but further out to sea. As I write this, I see three wild ponies walk freely along Carrot Island. The wild ponies on Carrot Island were placed there by a doctor in the 1950s so he could watch them from his porch while he had his morning coffee. I see the appeal of this as I do the same.
The Shackleford Island ponies have different bloodlines. According to the captain of our ferry to this uninhabited island, these ponies swam ashore hundreds of years ago after a ship carrying them ran aground. The crew released them into the water to lighted the load in hopes of getting the ship off the sandbar. These ponies swam ashore and have survived for hundreds of years on sea grass and fresh water found in watering holes in the center of the island. DNA studies prove the ponies are descendants of the Spanish mustang, brought to the NC coast by explorers in the early 1500’s.
The wild ponies are used to people and will walk quite close to you, although you may not feed or touch them. One of our favorite family activities is taking the Shackleford Island ferry to the island for a picnic lunch. On more than one occasion, we have seen dolphins on our way there, which the ferry captain pointed out and slowed the boat so we could watch them. There is a brief, wild ride through open water after the ferry passes Carrot Island and the still, protected water near the mainland of Beaufort. The ferry lands on the Shackleford beach and the captain intentionally runs the front of the boat aground so they can roll out a ramp for us to depart. After a brief offer of suggestions for finding the ponies and sea shells, the captain backs up the ferry and departs with a warning to be back at this spot by the time the last ferry of the day leaves or we will be left overnight to fend for ourselves.
We then walk down the beach toward the center of the island and follow the pony walking paths that cut across to the ocean side of the island. Shackleford is approximately 8.5 miles long, and up to a mile wide at the widest point. It is covered with large, rolling dunes near the water, and hardy shrubs and trees near the center which offer protection for the ponies during storms. There are watering holes in the center of the island where the ponies congregate and socialize, and we have spotted them there on each of our visits. We enjoy crossing the island to the beach on the opposite side where the waves crash and there are abundant sea shells. This is where we picnic before crossing back to the sound side of the island to catch the last ferry of the day back to Beaufort.