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Wild Ponies

The wild ponies are Ocracoke Island’s favorite residents!


Seven miles north of Ocracoke Village is a 188-acre plot of land on the sound side of the island. Behind a wooden fence lives the herd of Ocracoke Banker Ponies, descendants of Spanish mustangs who were shipwrecked just offshore several hundred years ago. The shipwrecks occurred up and down the barrier islands along the East Coast, and in some places the descendants still roam freely.

Due to the traffic on Highway 12 through Ocracoke, our Banker Ponies have been penned since 1959 and cared for by the National Park Service.

The current herd has sixteen members; the youngest was born in February of 2015. On top of their obvious natural appeal and fascinating history, the Ocracoke Banker Ponies have different physical characteristic from their wild counterparts. They have a different number of vertebrae and ribs (much like Spanish mustangs), plus they are shaped differently, have different coloring, are generally smaller in size, and weigh less than other horses. They are currently cared for by Laura Michaels, an NPS employee, who holds the position of Wrangler/Animal Caretaker, and is helped by a handful of volunteers.

During severe weather events, Laura makes sure the ponies are fed and safe. The ponies are not locked in their barns during severe weather, which allows them to roam around their pastures and take care of themselves and each other. Laura assesses any damages to the barns, fences, mangers, and utilities once the weather clears. She is also responsible for training the volunteers who feed the ponies, as well as general maintenance around the pasture and keeping an eye on the health of each pony.

Learn more about the history of the Ocracoke Banker Ponies at this website.



A visit to the Pony Pen is a must for any traveler to Ocracoke. The ponies have a wide range of sound side beach and marsh to explore, but they prefer to hang around their paddocks and stables (especially near feeding time), so you can almost always spot a few.

Halfway between the Ocracoke Village and the north end of the island, you will see the brown NPS sign for the Pony Pen. There’s plenty of parking, a short walk alongside the pasture on a boardwalk, and an elevated viewing platform. Bring bug spray and a camera!

NPS staff and volunteers offer programs at the Pony Pen for visitors to learn more about the most popular island residents. A calendar of events for these programs and more can be found by clicking here.

Directly across the highway from the Pony Pens is a pedestrian beach access with a long boardwalk over the dunes. It is a popular spot for shelling.