Banker Herd.


Banker mare and foal.


Banker foal and foal.


Banker drinking surface water after digging a hole.


The Banker stands between 13.0 and 14.3 hands high at the withers and weighs 800 to 1,000 pounds. hey are considered to be a semi-feral breed that originated on the Outer Bank Islands of North Carolina, including Shackleford Island which is only nine miles long. They are thought to have been developed from Spanish horses around the 16th century. They are in fact horses, however since they are shorter than then the average horse, they are known to be called pony.

The Banker has a 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. Most Bankers have no chestnuts on the hind legs. The coat can be any color, but is most often brown, bay, dun, or chestnut. Bankers have long-strided gaits and many are able to pace and amble. They are easy keepers and are hardy, friendly, and docile.

Several of the Bankers' characteristics indicate that they share ancestry with other Colonial Spanish Horse breeds. The presence of a genetic marker suggests that the horses share common ancestry with two other breeds of Spanish descent, the Pryor Mountain Mustang and Paso Fino. 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 they are short-backed, with some individuals possessing five instead of six 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 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.

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 of the Outer Banks. Hidden shoals claimed many victims, and earned this region the name of "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 made 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 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. Scholars believe that as the crew attempted to lighten the ship, they either unloaded the horses or forced them overboard, letting them swim 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.

About 400 Bankers inhabit the long, narrow barrier islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks. These islands are offshore sediment deposits separated from the mainland by a body of water such as an estuary or sound. The islands can be up to 30 miles from the shore; most are less than one mile wide. Vegetation is sparse and consists mainly of coarse grasses and a few stunted trees. Each island in the chain is separated from the next by a tidal inlet.

The Bankers' small stature can be attributed, in part, to limited nutrients in their diet. They graze mostly on Spartina grasses, but will feed on other plants such as bulrush (Typha latifolia), sea oats,and even poison ivy. Horses living closer to human habitation, such as those on Currituck Banks, have sometimes grazed on residential lawns and landscaping. Domesticated Bankers raised on manufactured horse feed from an early age tend to exhibit slightly larger frames.

Water is a limiting resource for Bankers, as the islands are surrounded by salt water and have no freshwater springs or permanent ponds. The horses are dependent on ephemeral pools of rainwater and moisture in the vegetation they consume. Bankers will dig shallow holes, ranging from 2.5 to 4 feet in depth, to reach fresh groundwater. Occasionally, they may resort to drinking seawater. This gives them a bloated appearance, a consequence of water retention caused by the body's effort to maintain osmotic balance.

Adopted 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


Reference:
Hendricks, Bonnie L., International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds, Univ of Oklahoma Press, 1995