Barnes Farm's Marsh Tacky Mares

According to D. P. Lowther, there are at this time, only two Marsh Tacky horses in the Upstate of South Carolina, the equine ladies known as Mamacita and her young filly, Esperenza.  Esperenza is Spanish for "Hope."   This is derived from our state motto -- "While I breathe, I hope."

The Marsh Tacky – South Carolina’s Horse

The details surrounding the origins of the MarshTacky may have been obscured by time, but oral traditions and the documentation thathas survived support the existence of this resourceful breed, stretching back to the time of the conquistadors.

Spanish ships landed in the Carolinas as early as 1500 bringing with them colonists and small fine-boned horses.  One of the earliest Spanish captains to arrive was Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, who had stopped in Santo Domingo, then sailed on to the Carolina coat, landing in the area now known as Myrtle Beach.  He brought with him 600 colonists and 89 horses.  The colony failed and the few surviving colonists returned to Santo Domingo.  They left the horses behind to fend for themselves.  aIn1566, Pedro Menendez de Aviles came back to the Carolina coast to build a fort at Port Royal (today’s Beaufort).  He brought colonists and horses also.  Later the Spanish returned to Spain, loading their ships with foods and returning colonists.  Once again, the horses were left to fend for themselves.

To accurately describe the horse brought over to the New World by the Spaniards, one must first think back to those times and the size of the ships.  The ships were small and allowed for very little storage.  Sailors slept in hammocks.  Therefore, when a ship’s log describes the horse as “of little value,” “nasty gray mare,” or “small black filly,” this must suggest that the horses were horses which were small and able to withstand a long ocean voyage on a low-ration diet.  When the English arrived in the 1600s to settle these areas, they were surprised to find the Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians riding these fine Spanish horses!

Descending from stock brought by the Spanish, the little horses of the upper southeastern coast were rugged and tough. In Colonial times they were used on cattle drives, for riding, transport and farming. No doubt the Native Americans prized these hearty, savvy horses too – the Chickasaw, the Cherokee, the Seminole, and the Choctaw all likely came into contact with the little horses. When the settlers began importing blooded horses – Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and other Oriental horses from overseas, the savvy little Marsh Tacky remained apart. It thrived in feral and semi-feral states in the  Lowcountry marshland where blooded animals would have perished. Tackys were often captured, tamed and made into reliable mounts for children. Many worked the fields or pulled buggies and carts. Throughout the 1800’s Tackys were reported to have been found as far north as Myrtle Beach and as far south as Georgia down to St. Simons, almost to the Florida border.

The campaign of Colonel Thomas Moore brought him to Beaufort in 1704; he was returning from Florida with captured Spanish cattle and horses.  His mission had been to remove all Spanish settlements from Florida.  Seventy-five years later, Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, and his troops rode Marsh Tackies during the American Revolution.  General Francis Marion’s men on the smaller and more mobile Marsh Tackies were able to out-maneuver the British mounted on their larger European breeds.  A painting by William Ranney in 1845 depicted the Battle of Cowpens of 1781 with the British on their large mounts and the American patriots on their small Marsh Tackies.

The first recorded documentation of horses on the islands came during the Civil War era. Union troops stormed Hilton Head and when the slaves there were set free, they were offered “40 acres and a marsh tacky” to begin their new lives with. In the years following the Civil War, Tackys continued to be useful. Their ability to safely navigate the marshy swamps of the land made them exceptional saddle and hunting horses. They were part of everyday life, pulling plows, hauling firewood for the home, drawing wagons with goods to market, as a mount for hunting deer, wild hog and other game for food, or carrying the family to church. They were handy herding cattle too when the East still had cattle drives. They were important to professionals in the field carrying mail, pulling the doctor’s buggy, and getting the teacher to schoolhouse. For the Gullah farmers of the region, the Marsh Tacky was as indispensable as the John Deere tractor is today.

Modern history, both documented and antidotal, indicates the horses still roamed freely by the hundreds in the early 20th Century on the islands off South Carolina, including Hilton Head. Native islanders continued to breed and use the Tackys until the 1950’s when developers moved in paving roads and gobbling up real estate. By 1974 there was one lone survivor left cropping grass on the lawn of local island restaurant. Only a dedicated few breeders quietly hung on.

The Marsh Tacky is a part of South Carolina’s history brought to life!

Breed Traits & Uses

Today, machines have replaced most of the Tackys’ work, however, as a trail and hunting horse, they can’t be beat. Surefooted and swamp savvy, Marsh Tackys have enduring, steady qualities that shine, such as their ability to stay calm in water and swampy terrain. Tackys come in most solid colors and many exhibit primitive markings, like dorsal stripes and zebra leg stripes. Manes and tails are usually long, reflecting their Spanish heritage. No doubt the longer hair was a useful trait down through the ages, protecting them against flies and mosquitoes rampant in low country coastal living. Heads are finely chiseled, displaying their Iberian heritage, with straight profiles and wide foreheads. Chests are powerful, but narrow. The hindquarters slope steeply, evidence of their Barbary blood. Hooves are flinty and durable, rarely requiring anything but proper trimming. During most of their existence, the Tacky had to survive by foraging on its own and managed to thrive; today they retain this trait and remain thrifty easy-keepers. Yet for all their ruggedness, the Carolina Marsh Tacky is a gentle, good-natured horse.

Current Status – Critical!

The modern world has all but forgotten the plucky horse known as the Marsh Tacky. Today its fate rests in the hands of a few dedicated breeders. They are all that stand between the Tacky and extinction. With approximately 100 horses taking their final stand in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the Equus Survival Trust lists the Carolina Marsh Tacky as Critical. A bill has been introduced requesting the breed designated be as the official State Horse of South Carolina.setstats