Report shows majority of Shackleford Banks horses are female

Two Shackleford Banks stallions have a brief encounter during a past trip to the barrier island. A report released Tuesday shows the majority of wild horses on the island are female. (Cheryl Burke photo)

HARKERS ISLAND — The majority of Shackleford Banks horses are female, according to a 2020 annual report released Tuesday by National Parks Service officials with Cape Lookout National Seashore and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses.

The report, which covers the calendar year 2020, states that at the end of 2020, there were 117 horses on Shackleford Banks. That compares to 111 horses at the end of 2019.

Of the horses reported on the barrier island in 2020, 62% were female and 38% were male. There are 10 horses over 23 years of age. Of those, two are males and eight are females. The oldest living horses on the island are two 27-year old mares.

The report states the herd mortality rate was 5%, with six deaths. On average, the herd mortality rate stands at 6%. Since 1999, the average lifespan of horses on Shackleford Banks has been approximately 11 years, according to the report.

Report shows majority of Shackleford Banks horses are female

Shackleford Banks horses graze along the shore of Cape Lookout National Seashore as a boater passes by. A report released Tuesday encourages visitors to Shackeford Banks to watch horses from a distance. (Cheryl Burke photo)

NPS officials, which manage the herd on Shackleford Banks, a part of the national seashore, with help from the nonprofit Foundation for Shackleford Horses, emphasize the most important factors in protecting the wild horses is public education and watching them from a distance.

They encourage visitors to watch them “without interacting with them or interrupting their natural behavior,” the report states.

Officials say they emphasize that message regularly in the media and through programs like the park’s “Horse Sense and Survival” tours. 

The park also offers visitors an opportunity to learn more about the wild horses by taking part in the Junior Ranger Wild Horse Protector activity.  Designed for students in sixth- through eighth- grades, a parent, guardian or youth leader may check out a backpack with instruments needed to complete activities like those done by the wild horse biologist. Upon completion, students receive an award and are certified as wild horse protectors. 

To see the full 2020 report, visit


Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.

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