The Marsh Tacky is a tiny, hardy, unflappable horse that is ideal for the Lowcountry’s beaches, waterways, pluff muck, and marshes. Thanks to Jackie McFadden for the photo.
A Marsh Tacky is what? a marshmallow that has been exposed to the sun melting? Or maybe an unattractive wetland? No, this odd moniker belongs to a horse—the official state heritage horse of South Carolina. And while the little Marsh Tacky might not be well-known, it is an important part of South Carolina’s history and still a beloved breed today.
Marsh Tackies developed on the Sea Islands of South Carolina three centuries or more. They’re descended from Colonial Spanish horses brought to coast of South Carolina in the 16th century, when the Spanish attempted the first European settlement in the US at Santa Elena on present-day Parris Island.
Marsh Tackies were developed to flourish in the marshy, hot, and humid Lowcountry environment. They are delicate, petite, strong, quiet, and courageous. Other horses struggled in the soft, difficult terrain of swamp, pluff mud, water and marsh. But the Marsh Tacky had a reputation for being calm under pressure and not losing his cool. For labor in the Lowcountry, both qualities were necessary.
Even in the history of the United States, the diminutive Marsh Tacky was significant. The Marsh Tacky was the preferred horse of the soldiers under Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” whose victories in the Revolutionary War helped turn the tide for the patriots. The British cavalry’s big, heavy war horses were at a distinct disadvantage in the swamps of South Carolina, while the Marsh Tackies moved the patriots through almost impenetrable swampland.
But while the Marsh Tacky was an integral part of South Carolina history and culture, they are now very rare, with about 400 known Marsh Tackies alive today. There may have been 100 a decade ago, and the breed was on the verge of extinction. Due to the diligent efforts of the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association The breed is making a return, especially among Marsh Tacky owners.
There are several ways to see and meet Marsh Tackies today. Island of Hilton Head’s Coastal Discovery Museum features two Marsh Tackies that are sometimes on display for guests. You might see them as you drive through their pasture on the way to the museum buildings. They are among the museum’s most well-liked attractions. They aren’t always there or on exhibit, however, so call ahead to check.
The Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage The Marsh Tacky’s history is periodically presented in Ridgeland, replete with friendly meet-and-greet instances.
Although Marsh Tackies were never nearly as well-known for their racing prowess as thoroughbreds, it doesn’t mean they don’t like running. Marsh Tackies and the beach are two of South Carolina’s greatest attractions, and the Kiawah Cup Beach Race is a wonderful opportunity to combine both. The Kiawah Cup is a race held by Kiawah Cares exclusively for Marsh Tackies in March. Study more here .
And whence did that amusing name originate, anyhow? The old-fashioned term for common is “tacky,” after all. Marsh Tackies were the common horse in the Lowcountry, the one every family had. But we think they’re a true South Carolina treasure.
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