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    A Lowcountry Legend | Summer 2012 Out Here Magazine

    Carolina Marsh Tacky Horse is back from near extinction

    a horse and foal walking
    Out Here

    By Jeannette Beranger

    Photo courtesy of The ALBC

    Few horse breeds come close to the fame and legend of the Marsh Tacky horse, once believed to have long ago died out. With a history of more than 400 years in South Carolina, these horses are as much a part of American history as any notable human figure, yet few out of their native region are familiar with them.

    The Marsh Tacky horse's exact origin is unclear, but it can be linked back to stock that arrived with Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

    Spanish horses were acquired at the St. Augustine, Fla., settlement and used as pack animals along the trade routes of the Chickasaw, Creek, and southeastern Choctaw tribes to South Carolina. The horses were sold once they arrived in Charleston, S.C., which bolstered the population of Spanish horses that would become the Marsh Tacky breed.

    Beginning in the 1800s, almost all Spanish stock was crossbred with or replaced by horses of larger size. By 1950, Spanish stock was considered extinct.

    Rediscovery and recovery of the Marsh Tacky breed began in 2005 when the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy traveled to South Carolina to determine whether the breed still existed. Thanks to their relative isolation in South Carolina's coastal and lowland regions, more than 100 Tackies were found and their heritage confirmed by DNA samples.

    Marsh Tackies are sturdy, well-balanced, smart, and easy to train. Their typically gentle nature and easily managed size — around 14 hands — historically made the Marsh Tacky the preferred mount for ladies and children, but their strength and ability in the field made them popular as working animals utilized for both hunting and farm work. It was their role as hunting mounts with no equal in the hot, wet climate of the Lowcountry that saved the breed from extinction.

    For more information about Marsh Tacky horses contact the American Livestock Breed conservancy, at,
    or the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, at

    Marsh Tackies have played a significant role in South Carolina's history during the American Revolution when they were used as dragoon horses by troops of the famous "Swamp Fox," Francis Marion.

    Noted naturalist John James Audubon in the 1800s described Tackies in his field journals noting that these horses were "tough as pine knots" then, as they are now.

    Today, most Marsh Tacky horses lie in the hands of hunters and longtime fanciers who have had these horses in their families for generations. In June 2007 owners met to create the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association to support and promote the Marsh Tacky horse.

    The Marsh Tacky remains a living piece of history in its native region. If you are considering buying a Marsh Tacky, remember that these horses are best suited to the heat and wet conditions of the coast of the Southeast. If you live outside this area, consider other breeds that are better fits for your region.

    And before you purchase a Marsh Tacky, be sure it is the "real deal." It must be registered in the Carolina Marsh Tacky Registry.

    Jeannette Beranger is Research & Technical Programs Manager for the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.


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