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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Living Link to the Revolution: South Carolina's Marsh Tacky Horses

In June 2010, the Marsh Tacky horse, a breed now on the verge of extinction, became the official State Heritage Horse of South Carolina. If you’ve never heard of Marsh Tacky horses, you’re in good company. Most people haven’t, including me. What’s so important about this breed that they were designated an official State horse? you may ask. Turns out there’s a lot.

Marsh Tacky horses are descendants of the horses Spanish explorers left behind on the south Atlantic coast in the 1500s, which bred with the stock Spanish settlers later brought to the New World. From these breeds developed several distinct strains of horses, including the Marsh Tacky, North Carolina’s Banker Ponies, and Florida’s Cracker Horses. They are direct descendants of the horses common during the Golden Age of Spain, which are now almost completely extinct in Spain.

Marsh Tackies got their name from the fact that they live in marshy areas, and the term tacky, which means common. Feral herds adapted to the conditions of America’s southeastern coastal regions. Sturdy and smaller than many common breeds at only 13 to 15 hands high, Marsh Tackies adapted to swamps and wooded wetlands, surviving on marsh grass and other available forage that couldn’t sustain most breeds. Their distinctive gait provides a greater stability in the terrain, and when stuck in quagmires, they learned to lie down on their sides, pull their feet free, and get up, instead of panicking as most horses would.
These horses are also a link to the American Revolution. General Francis Marion’s soldiers relied on these horses for their hardiness and their ability to navigate the coastal regions with ease, and in fact, their gait is now called the Swamp Fox Trot. With many of his horses lost at sea, British Colonel Banastre Tarleton also made use of these horses during his capture of Charleston. And the breed saw service during the Civil War as well as during World War II, when they served in the Coast Guard’s Mounted Beach Patrol.

Marsh Tackies’ habitat originally ranged from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. They were widely used in the Gullah community for transportation, farming, and hunting until cars and trucks became prevalent. But by the mid twentieth century they could be found only on outlying islands. Fewer than 300 Marsh Tackies remain today, none in the wild, and efforts are being made to save the breed from extinction.

The links below provide more information on the Marsh Tacky breed and conservation efforts.


Information for this article was taken from “Living Links to the Revolution: South Carolina’s Marsh Tacky Horses,” American Spirit, May/June 2012.

16 comments:

  1. A very interesting post. We have the wild ponies near here in the Outer Banks which are fun to watch. Thanks for explaining the name also.

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  2. This is fascinating. I consider myself a bit of a horse fancier, and I have never heard of this breed. Thank you for your research and fabulous pictures.

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  3. Great post! These horses are in "Laurel," the sequel to my novel The Chamomile. When I researched them, I found out that during times of drought, in order to find water the horses would dig holes in the ground up to their shoulders. That made walking treacherous on Ocracoke Island.

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    1. SUSAN, I thought you wrote this article! Then I saw Joan did. Am enjoying Laurel so far! Love your writing! We aren't going to OBX this year.

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    2. CARRIE, I would like to make another trip to Ocracoke Island. Maybe I can fit it in between now and the end of the year. So happy you are enjoying Laurel. I'm working to increase the word count.

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  4. Oh goodness, so pretty! I've always been a horse nut, and especially love-love-love the "wild" horses of America! Mustangs, Chincoteague ponies, the ponies on my own Outer Banks...Happy to discover a new breed, and with such a background! Can I have one? Pretty please? :oD

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  5. Joan, what an informative post with gorgeous pics of these lovely animals. Have never heard of this breed and loved learning about them! Thank you!

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  6. Very interesting piece of history. Great post!!

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  7. Thank you for the great Post Joan on the Marsh Tacky Horse, it is very interesting and I hope the can bring them back from extinction, they are such beautiful Horses.
    Many Blessings
    Ingrid

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  8. Oh, very interesting. I'd never heard of these horses, but they remind me of the ponies on Assateague Island (MD) we used to visit when I was a child. A related strain, I should think, as they are also rumored to be descended from Spanish horses. Back in the 1970s they liked to eat cereal straight from the box and were just tame enough to come up to you on the beach to get some. I don't imagine that sort of thing is allowed these days. :)

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  9. I followed those links. They are really quite beautiful, much finer looking than the Assateague ponies. Roan is my favorite color for a horse.

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  10. Great article! I had no idea about those horses. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. I learned about these horses through an article in DAR's American Spirit magazine, and I recommend that publication highly. They always have very interesting articles. I'd never heard of this breed either and was delighted to learn about them and do some further research.

    Rebecca, I'd sure love to have one too! lol! They are gorgeous and obviously very intelligent and resourceful. I love the roans too, Lori! Hmm...I suspect Marsh Tackies are going to make an appearance when Carleton's Rangers head into the swamps to battle the British in the southern theater. :-)

    BTW, I apologize for being so tardy in responding to all your wonderful comments. We just moved, and I'm also over my head finishing up Crucible of War for publication in September, so I lost track of when this article was scheduled to post. I hope to have Crucible off my desk by tomorrow and be able to get back to a relatively normal schedule! Thank you, ladies, for your feedback!

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  12. Joan, love this piece! Beautiful animals. Love hearing how horses played a role. :)

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  13. Lynn, they really are beautiful. I fell in love with them as soon as I read the first article and am surprised that I never ran across any information about them in my research before. Things like this just bring history to life. I'm very glad they survived and that efforts are being made to preserve the breed.

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  14. Great post! I learned something! Thanks so much.

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