Banker breed information
Banker horse general information
COLORThe coat can be any color, but is most often brown, bay, dun, or chestnut.
SIZEThe typical Banker is relatively small, standing between 13.0 and 14.3 hands
WEIGHTBanker horse breed can weigh from 800 to 1,000 pounds.
ORIGINNo one is certain of the exact origin of the Banker Horse, but there is no doubt that it is of Spanish stock. The region was first colonized by Spanish explorers in the 1520s, and later again in the 1580s by the English. Both were known to have brought stock over. Whether these animals escaped, were released, or saved from shipwreck is uncertain. Whatever the case, by the 1700s horses were well documented on the Outer Banks. Because of the relatively isolated environment, the horses remain a relatively pure stock.
USESAdopted Bankers are often used for pleasure riding and driving. As they have a calm disposition, they are used as children's mounts. The breed has also been used in several mounted patrols.
Before 1915, the United States Lifesaving Service used horses for beach watches and rescues. In addition to carrying park rangers on patrols, the horses hauled equipment to and from shipwreck sites. The Bankers were used for beach duty at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in the 1980s, and during World War II the Coast Guard also used them for patrols.
In 1955, ten horses were taken from the Ocracoke herd for Boy Scout Troop 290. After taming and branding the horses, the scouts then trained them for public service activities; the Bankers were ridden in parades and used to spray mosquito-ridden salt marshes.
INFLUENCESpanish Horse breeds such as Pryor Mountain Mustang and Paso Fino.
TEMPRERAMENTBanker horses are easy keepers and are hardy, friendly, and docile.
The Banker horse is a breed of feral domestic horse (Equus ferus caballus) living on the islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks. It is small, hardy, and has a docile temperament. Descended from domesticated Spanish horses and possibly brought to the Americas in the 16th century, the ancestral foundation bloodstock may have become feral after surviving shipwrecks or being abandoned on the islands by one of the exploratory expeditions led by Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón or Sir Richard Grenville. Populations are found on Ocracoke Island, Shackleford Banks, Currituck Banks, and in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Sanctuary.
Although they can trample plants and ground-nesting animals, and are not considered to be indigenous to the islands, Bankers are allowed to remain because of their historical significance. They survive by grazing on marsh grasses, which supply them with water as well as food, supplemented by temporary freshwater pools.
To prevent overpopulation and inbreeding, and to protect their habitat from being overgrazed, the horses are managed by the National Park Service, the State of North Carolina, and several private organizations. The horses are monitored for diseases such as equine infectious anemia, an outbreak of which was discovered and subsequently eliminated on Shackleford in 1996, and they are safeguarded from traffic on the North Carolina Highway 12. Island populations are limited by adoptions and by birth control. Bankers taken from the wild and trained have been used as a trail riding horse, driving, and occasionally for mounted patrols.
The forehead is broad and the facial profile tends to be straight or slightly convex. The chest is deep and narrow and the back is short with a sloped croup and low-set tail. Legs have an oval-shaped cannon bone, a trait considered indicative of "strong bone" or soundness. The callousities known as chestnuts are small, on some so tiny that they are barely detectable, and most individuals have no chestnuts on the hind legs. Bankers have long-strided gaits and many are able to pace and amble.
Several of the Banker's characteristics indicate that they share ancestry with other Colonial Spanish Horse breeds. The presence of the genetic marker Q-ac suggests that the horses share common ancestry with two other breeds of Spanish descent, the Pryor Mountain Mustang and Paso Fino, though these breeds diverged from one another 400 years ago. The breed shares skeletal traits of other Colonial Spanish horses: the wings of the atlas are lobed, rather than semi-circular, and the spine may be fused at the fifth and sixth lumbar vertebrae. No changes in function result from these spinal differences. The convex facial profile common to the breed also indicates Spanish ancestry.
Since they are free-roaming, Bankers are often referred to as "wild" horses; however, because they descend from domesticated ancestors, they are actually feral horses. It is thought that the Bankers arrived on the barrier islands during the 16th century. Several hypotheses have been advanced to explain the horses' origins, but none have yet been fully verified.
Aerial view of a barrier island in the North Carolina Outer Banks. One theory is that ancestors of the Banker swam ashore from wrecked Spanish galleons. Ships returning to Spain from the Americas often took advantage of both the Gulf Stream and continental trade winds, on a route that brought them within 20 miles (32 km) of the Outer Banks. Hidden shoals claimed many victims, and earned this region the name "the Graveyard of the Atlantic". At least eight shipwrecks discovered in the area are of Spanish origin, dating between 1528 and 1564. These ships sank close enough to land for the horses to have been cast on the shores. Alternatively, during hazardous weather, ships may have taken refuge close to shore, where the horses may have been turned loose. However, the presence of horses on Spanish treasure ships has not been confirmed—cargo space was primarily intended for transporting riches such as gold and silver.
Another conjecture is that the breed is descended from the 89 horses brought to the islands in 1526 by Spanish explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón. His attempted colonization of San Miguel de Gualdape (near the Santee River in South Carolina) failed, forcing the colonists to move, possibly to North Carolina. Vázquez de Ayllón himself and about 450 of the original 600 colonists subsequently died, as a result of desertion, disease, and an early frost. Lacking effective leadership, the new settlement lasted for only two months; the survivors abandoned the colony and fled to Hispaniola, leaving their horses behind.
A similar theory is that Sir Richard Grenville brought horses to the islands in 1585, during an attempt to establish an English naval base. All five of the expedition’s vessels ran aground at Wococon (present-day Ocracoke). Documents indicate that the ships carried various types of livestock obtained through trade in Hispaniola, including "mares, kyne [cattle], buls, goates, swine [and] sheep". While the smaller vessels were easily refloated, one of Grenville’s larger ships, the Tiger, was nearly destroyed. It is believed that in an attempt to lighten the ship the horses were either unloaded or thrown overboard and swam to shore. In a letter to Sir Francis Walsingham that same year, Grenville suggested that livestock survived on the island after the grounding of his ships.
Banker health and genetic issues
The Banker horses are monitored for diseases such as equine infectious anemia, an outbreak of which was discovered and subsequently eliminated on Shackleford in 1996, and they are safeguarded from traffic on the North Carolina Highway 12.
Banker fun facts
Many of the horses that still do exist are alive thanks to the efforts of Dale Burrus, a Banker Horse enthusiast. Not only has he collected and preserved the horse, he has also sought to keep the wild population in their natural state on the islands. Differences between naturalists and horse enthusiasts are still present, leaving the future of the horse uncertain.