Photographing Wild Horses

Me - protecting myself from the sun


My wife was spending the week with her high school friends at Carolina Beach in North Carolina.  She wanted me to pick her up at end of week so we could take it easy on way back and visit some friends.  I decided to go early and try to photograph some wild horses.

I decided to try to photograph wild horses from a kayak at the Rachel Carson Reserve on my first day and on the second day take the ferry over to Shackleford Banks, the southern-most barrier island in Cape Lookout National Seashore to photograph the wild horses.

Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

The horses on Rachel Carson Reserve were brought to the island deliberately by a local citizen in the 1940s, and became feral or “wild” over the decades as they survived by eating the local cordgrass and digging for fresh water.  The only way to reach the island is by boat.

I rented a kayak, put my camera and long lens in a case inside of a dry bag, loaded my food and water in the kayak and paddled over to the island.  I was told the horses usually hang out in a bay on southern tip of the island.  So I paddled across the Taylor River to Rachel Carson island into the bay to start my quest searching for the wild horses.  No horses but there is a beautiful beach on the ocean side the locals use to sunbath and swim.

Kayak packed and ready to go


Entrance into the bay looking for the wild horses


Nice beach on Rachel Preserve that locals use to sunbath and swim.

Scenic kayak on beach in Outer Banks

No wild horses.  Paddling as far as I could into the bay and then getting out of the kayak and wild horses.  Finally decided to paddle to north part of the island on the bay (inside) of the island looking for the horses as I paddled north.  Paddled about 2 miles north I ran into a family in kayaks coming out of an inlet.  I asked them if they'd seen any of the wild horses.  They said been watching them all morning and they just moved out heading toward the southern part of the island.   So I turned around and headed back to the southern part of island I had just been.  When I got back to southern part of island where I had just been I did spot one wild horse feeding in the grass. Shot a few photos but not very exciting.

I did chase some crabs around the beach for awhile

Chasing crabs across the sand

After photographing the one horse for awhile and chasing the crabs around the sand for awhile, decided to paddle back up to north side of the island.  Kayaked back to the inlet I met the family of kayakers earlier and started up the stream.  (Not really a stream, looks like stream because the tide  makes a current as it goes in and out. )  The tide coming in so I started up the "stream" until kayak stuck on the bottom.  Then waited till tide brought in more water and I would paddle farther up the "stream".  Ran into a fisherman who said the horses were just there but had moved off.  At that time a horse ran across a marsh in front of me but no way I could get my camera out before he disappeared from view.  I keep going upstream as the tide keep coming in and bringing more water so I could go forward. 

Finally came around a bend and I could see the horses far off in a distance.  Too far off to photograph even with my long lens.  Very frustrating because the band was very active with stallions chasing each other.  Running through shallow water with the water spraying and  splashing up.   The photos I was looking for was happening but too far away.

Photos of horses chasing around in the marsh but too far away

Watching the horses interact from a distance I noticed a stallion chase four horses out of the band.  Got lucky....those four horses, the stallion and three mares came straight toward me. They came right up to me and started feeding.  The stallion rolled in the sand for me and  I observed some behaviors that I didn't fully understand until I read about it later.  The stallion was last in line and he was lowering his head and shaking it as he was leading his band away from the danger.  The lead mare decides where they stop and eat.

Photos of the band of horses that was feeding right in front on me in my kayak.

As I was photographing the four horses in front of me I sensed commotion behind me.  I turned around and the large band of horses had moved closer and if enough water had come into the inlet I could get much closer.  Couldn't get as close as I wanted but close enough to get some photos and the horses were active with one stallion chasing and fighting the other stallions.  One stallion was prancing around and making sure everyone knew who the alpha  male was.

Photos of stallion chasing the other horses

Not long after I took these photos I got a call from the company that I rented the kayak from wondering if I was ready to return.  I asked him when I rented the kayak if I could keep using it after 5:00 o'clock and he had said ...yes no problem.  He said his wife wanted to do something and if I would come in now he would pick me up in the motor boat so I wouldn't have to paddle back.  So, I packed my camera and paddled down the inlet and he picked me up in the motor boat.

The next day I took the ferry to Shackleford Island

The wild Shackleford mustangs are accessible only by boat, isolated on a nine-mile long barrier island between Beaufort Inlet and Cape Lookout. These hardy descendants of Spanish Mustangs have the free run of the island, which has no human habitation.

Before going over to Shackleford Island I asked around about finding the horses on the island.  I didn't get much encouragement.  Most of the responses were I'd be lucky to find them.  The island is 6 miles long with woods and sand dunes and searching for them can be rough.  On the ride over to the island on the ferry I wasn't sure what I was going to do about finding the horses.  I read the best thing to do is to find a water hole and wait but did not say where the water holes are.  As the ferry was coming in to the beach to drop us off on Shackleford Island the caption announced must be your lucky day the wild horses are cooperating.  I looked up and the wild horses were about 50 yard off to the left from where to ferry was landing.  It was my lucky day.

Photos of wild horses on Shackleford Island

After feeding in the area for 2 to 3 hours the band of horses crossed a shallow marsh, went down the beach, back up into the sand dunes and then into the woods.  I tried to follow them and keep up but there was no way.  It was hot, camera equipment getting heavy and the sand deep and hard to walk on.  My last picture is the final horse in the band going into the woods looking back and like he was telling me    " no way old stop now".   He was right.  I sat down in the sand, pulled one of my water bottles out and poured it over my head.  Found some shade and rested for couple hours.  Yes, It was a great couple days...... 

Photos of horses leaving the area and going down beach, and then into the woods.

Photos from Rachel Island

Photos from Shackleford Island