Cape Hatteras Welcomes New Pony

The herd of wild ponies at Cape Hatteras has expanded with the birth of Winnie

A Foal is Born on Cape Hatteras National Seashore
May 17, 2018

There’s a new face on Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s a little fuzzy, it snorts just a bit, and the legs are a little wobbly. But everybody agrees it is really cute. Meet Winnie. She was born on May 3, 2018. Her mother is Sacajawea, a mare from Shackleford Banks who joined the Ocracoke herd in 2010, and her father is Captain Marvin Howard. The foal was named by Ocracoke School students.

Winnie Blount was a former slave from the Washington, N.C. area. She and her husband moved to Ocracoke after the Civil War and were the first African-American family on the island. Winnie will stay close to her mother for at least six months and will join the rest of the herd sometime in the fall of 2018.

How did ponies get there in the first place?

Of course the arrival of a new pony raises the question about how the animals managed to get to the Cape Hatteras National Sea Shore in the first place. Ironically, nobody is exactly sure, but there are strong theories. It’s certain the first horses arrived from Europe, most likely Spain and England. It’s also well known that the Spanish sent some of the first explorers to the New World. Christopher Columbus was one of the first explorers and it is documented that his ships, like many of the tall ships at the time, carried domesticated horses along with a variety of other cargo that were utilized to explore the new land. Even with modern technology, sailing near the Outer Banks is perilous to this day because of the unpredictable and fast-changing shoals. It was even more dangerous a half century ago. Many sailing vessels wrecked and their crews perished in the shoals of these extremely dangerous waters.

However not everything was lost in shipwrecks. The horses were often able to swim safely to the shore after jumping from wrecked ships. And if the vessel wasn’t wrecked, but simply stranded on a shoal, sailors often dumped weighty cargo overboard in an effort to refloat the ship. It is speculated that horses were part of the “extra weight” dumped overboard.

The last theory speculates that, in arriving to a location where no pier was available, the horses were pushed overboard and forced to swim ashore, with the intention of rounding them up later on land for scouting the resources. But that didn’t always work well and the horses ran off. It is safe to say that the new foal represents a line of survivors from the earliest European explorations and discovery of the New World. That’s quite a history for little Winnie. 

—Frank Graff 

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci Tech Now North Carolina, a weekly science series that airs Tuesdays on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!