15 Feral Horse Colonies From Around the World

Two horses standing on sand on a foggy day
Photo: David Kay/Shutterstock

There's nothing more romantic than seeing a band of wild horses galloping across a scenic beach, but wait — are they really wild?

Probably not. The only true "wild horse" is the Przewalski's horse of Mongolia. All the other free-roaming horse and pony subspecies belonging to Equus ferus are feral or semi-feral equines that have descended from a line of domesticated horses.

Of course, just because they're not technically "wild" doesn't mean they aren't wildlife. Feral horses should be treated with as much caution and respect as any other wild creature.

Here's a look at just a few of the most well-known feral horse and pony populations around the world.

1
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Mustangs

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There's no feral horse quite as iconic as the mustangs of the American West.

These elegant creatures are descended from horses brought over to the Americas by the Spanish, but over the years, they have become mixed with a wide variety of other breeds, as well.

Mustangs are currently managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and as outlined by the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, these equines "are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West, which continue to contribute to the diversity of life forms within the Nation and enrich the lives of the American people."

2
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Brumby horses

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Brumbies are feral horses that roam free in Australia. Although bands of brumbies are found throughout the continent, the most well-known populations are found in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Like many invasive species in Australia, brumbies are the descendents of escaped, released or lost animals that date back to the time of the first European settlements on the continent.

Due to the serious ecological threats they pose to native plants and wildlife, they are generally considered pests. But as with any population control methods for invasive species, the subject of brumby management is mired in controversy.

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Konik horses

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This semi-feral horse breed originates in Poland, where they have a long history as hardy work horses.

Today, many of these majestic ponies can be found in nature reserves, where they are monitored and bred in controlled conditions.

Due to their primitive markings (a dun colored coat and the presence of dorsal stripes), it was once thought that Konik horses were the most recent descendant of the now-extinct European wild horse. However, DNA testing has proved that the breed shares the same mitochondrial DNA as many other modern domesticated horses.

4
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Chincoteague ponies

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Chincoteague ponies are one of the most well-known feral equines on the East Coast.

While they are often referred to as "ponies" due to their appearance, they are actually more genotypically similar to horses.

The term "Chincoteague" also leads to confusion because the horses technically live on Assateague Island, which is split in half by the border of Maryland and Virginia. The ponies on the Maryland side live in Assateague Island National Seashore while the Virginia ponies live within Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

5
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Dartmoor ponies

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Dartmoor ponies are named for the protected English moorland in which they reside. Characterized by their short yet broad stature, these ponies are known for being exceptionally hardy. Their strength and stamina gives them a leg up in the face of the extreme weather that is common to the moorland's climate.

Like many other wild and feral horses, these equines have declined greatly in population over the past century. According to the BBC, there used to be tens of thousands of free-roaming Dartmoor ponies in the moorland, but in the spring of 2004, the number stood at just a few hundred.

6
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Namib Desert horses

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These exceedingly rare feral horses are found in the Namib Desert of Namibia, Africa. The story behind their introduction into this harsh terrain remains unclear, though there are some theories that their ancestors were former German cavalry horses brought to the area during World War I.

They currently roam the desert's Garub Plains, where they're allowed to remain as a tourist draw and historical oddity. To protect them, their grazing lands were incorporated into Namib-Naukluft Park in 1986.

7
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Misaki-uma horses

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Misaki horses can be found grazing in meadows along Cape Toi ("Toimisaki" in Japanese) in Japan's Kyushu prefecture.

Like many "native" horse breeds in Japan, the original ancestors of the Misaki breed were brought over from China by humans hundreds of years ago.

Despite their long history, only about 100 individuals remain following a dramatic drop in numbers at the end of World War II.

8
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Camargue horses

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Witnessing a herd of Camargue horses galloping through the surf is kind of like watching the beginning of "Chariots of Fire." These elegant, grayish-white beauties are an ancient breed of horse that originated along the protected wetlands of Camargue, France. They are celebrated for their agility, stamina and hardiness.

Although many semi-feral individuals spend their days roaming the marshlands, others are bred and trained to herd cattle by humans.

9
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Grayson Highlands ponies

A trio of ponies graze in Grayson Highlands State Park. (Photo: David Fossler/Shutterstock)

If you ever dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail, make sure you take some time to see the feral ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park when you pass through Virginia.

These adorable equines are not indigenous to the region; rather, they were introduced into the area by the U.S. Forest Service several decades ago to control overgrowth along the area's historically logged balds.

Since then, they have solidified themselves as friendly (almost too friendly) faces along one of the most famous hiking trails in the country.

10
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Welsh mountain pony

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Welsh Mountain ponies are just one member of a larger group of closely related equines known as the Welsh Pony and Cob. All of these breeds originate in Wales long before the rise of the Roman Empire.

The Welsh Mountain Pony (Section A of the breed group) likely descended from a prehistoric Celtic pony, and while many have been domesticated, there is still a herd of nearly 200 individuals roaming the Carneddau hills of Snowdonia, Wales.

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Danube Delta horses

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These picturesque creatures live among the wetlands and forests of Romania's Danube Delta region.

While there has been a feral horse presence in this area for centuries, the number of individuals has ballooned to 4,000 since the 1990s as a result of humans closing their farms and releasing their livestock into the wild.

Though the horses are an obvious subject of inspiration and curiosity, their unchecked numbers pose serious threats to indigenous plant life.

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Pottoka ponies

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Native to the Pyrenees Mountains of France and Spain's Basque Country, the Pottoka are an ancient breed of horse that has become increasingly endangered due to the loss of habitat and crossbreeding with other equine varieties, including Iberian horses, Arabian horses and Welsh ponies.

What's fascinating about the Pottoka is that they are quite adept at "predicting" the weather. Depending on the air pressure, herds will migrate into valleys ahead of bad weather and return to the highlands after the storm passes.

13
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Cumberland Island horses

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From dense maritime forest to its 17-mile-long stretch of undeveloped beach, Cumberland Island National Seashore is filled with all kinds of natural treasures. One of its most famous attractions, however, are its feral horses.

Descended from a stock brought over to the island from mainland Georgia in the 19th century, Cumberland's feral horses number between 150 to 200 individuals. They are treated as any other wild creature and are not provided any assistance. While they're quite lovely to look at from afar, they can be quite physically defensive when approached too closely.

14
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Garrano and Sorraia

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There are two famous breeds of indigenous feral equines in Portugal — the Sorraia horses of the south and the Garrano ponies of the north (pictured).

Both are currently classified as endangered due to a decline in agricultural use value as well as predation, though there have been recent preservation efforts to re-establish and protect these breeds.

15
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Banker horses

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Grazing upon the marsh grasses of North Carolina's Outer Banks, these equines originated along the coast much like other feral populations up and down the Eastern sea board. They're believed to be the descendents of domesticated Spanish horses that were brought to the continent in the 16th century.

Managed by the National Park Service, banker horses possess a slightly diminutive stature thanks to a sparse diet that results in stunted growth.