Our family runs a horse ranch in the hills of Virginia. Some might think that spending every day with these hooved creatures would dampen our love for them, but every day we’re still impressed by their majesty.
When our daughter, Sasha, came home from school one day bursting with excitement after learning about the wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs that roam freely on the beaches in Carova—within the Outer Banks region of North Carolina—my husband and I knew we wanted to take our family to see them for ourselves.
We rented a house right on the beach in Carova, the northernmost beach of the Outer Banks. We drove with the windows down, gazing east at wide stretches of sand, undulating dunes covered in sea oats and the blue-grey Atlantic Ocean, with white caps of cresting waves racing toward the shore.
I noticed that the area was sparsely populated, with a few residential homes dotting the dunes here and there. It felt like we were headed into the wild, and I was exhilarated at the thought of what adventure was waiting for us.
I looked in the backseat to see Sasha and Caleb, our son, pressing their faces against the windows and looking at the beach—no doubt trying to be the first to see the wild horses.
Arriving at our beautiful beach home in Carova—our closest neighbors a walk away—we unloaded the car; skin feeling the cool breeze from the ocean air. I noticed my husband stretch out his arms, head back to soak up the sun.
Sasha settled into the couch first, searching for the best guarantee we’d have to see the horses. As I unpacked the cooler into the fridge, she read off facts and tidbits for the whole house to hear.
Suddenly, we heard Caleb yell from the balcony in his room.
We all rushed to see what the commotion was and sure enough, there they were across the beach. A group of 10 beautiful, auburn-haired horses trotting along the edge of the surf, with a foal in tow. Their coats glistened in the summer evening sun as they casually strolled by. The scene was something out of a fairy tale, and I stood there with my family in awe. It was one of those moments that you know you’ll remember for the rest of your life, even as it is happening.
In her research, Sasha found a local horse tour led by experts that we quickly signed up for. On the tour, bounding along on the beach in an open-air vehicle, we had a 360-degree view and were able to see a wide expanse of the horses’ natural habitat.
Sure enough, we came upon a large group from the herd, enjoying a watering hole closer to the sound side of the island. A few of the horses played around with one another in the sunshine. It felt as if we were on a safari and had a front-row seat to a show many people don’t have the chance to see.
Caleb, an aspiring photographer thanks to an upgraded phone, tried out a couple angles to get the best shots of the horses. The colors looked beautiful—burnt sienna and black mane against pale sand and slate ocean. “We should print one of these out and frame it back home,” I told him.
The rest of the week was marked by more magical horse sightings, intertwined with a few day and evening trips to Corolla, where we climbed the Currituck Lighthouse to view the amazing landscape from sound to sea; walked around Whalehead in Historic Corolla; and enjoyed unforgettable meals at some of the quaint restaurants in town, just off the sandy path.
The final morning of our vacation, we all woke with slightly heavy hearts, as we knew we had to say goodbye to the fairy tale we had been living in for a week. As we ate breakfast, discussing what we loved the most about our week in Carova together, something unforgettable happened.
We turned to see a stallion grazing in the small patch of backyard just outside of our window. He looked up and I swear we made eye contact. It was as if we had stepped into a storybook and were living in the last few pages as we all exchanged glances with this beautiful wild creature. When the horse walked off and back to the herd just down the beach, we looked at each other and all started laughing in amazement.
It is easy to say that our trip to Carova will be remembered by our family for the rest of our lives, and that the memories we made there will be passed down for generations. It’s also easy to say that we will definitely be back.