There are many theories about how ponies found their way to Ocracoke Island. Some say they arrived on English ships during 16th-century exploration, others say they were victims of Spanish shipwrecks and some say they were simply livestock for the locals. However they got here, the ponies roamed the island freely for at least two centuries and were very much a part of the island lifestyle in days gone by. The local Boy Scouts even rode them, making them the only mounted troop in the country.
When N.C. Highway 12 was paved in 1957, cars and ponies began to collide. The National Park Service wanted to get rid of the entire herd, but the islanders protested and the Park Service agreed to contain some of the ponies on the island. In 1959 they developed the Ocracoke Pony Pens, a 180-acre pasture area that today houses about 17 ponies. Several ponies are rotated up to the front pasture so that visitors can always get a look at these unusual equines. The Ocracoke ponies have distinctive physical characteristics: five lumbar vertebrae instead of the six found in most horses, 17 ribs instead of 18 and a unique shape, posture, color, size and weight.
The pens are located on N.C. 12 about 7 miles north of the village. It’s free to visit, but donations are welcomed to help pay for the food and veterinary care of the ponies. Remember: The ponies are not tame, and they may try to kick or bite you if you try to feed or touch them. Also, remember that people food can be very dangerous for horses, so don't take the chance of making one of these wonderful creatures ill by offering them chips or the rest of your sandwich.