The Carolina Marsh Tacky is a rare horse breed native to South Carolina, United States. It belongs to the Colonial Spanish group of horse breeds found along the east coast of the United States.
The name ‘tacky’ comes from the English slang for “cheap” or “common”. This is quite apt because the Marsh Tacky was the most common and affordable horse back in the 16th and 18th centuries. Presently, this breed is considered to be critically endangered as only 400 of them exist today.
The presence of the Carolina Marsh Tacky in the United States dates back to the 16th century. During that time the Spanish explorers along with their horses came and settled in the islands and coastal areas of South Carolina. The Marsh tacky breed developed from these very horses. After the St. Augustine settlement in Florida, more horses were brought and added to the local population.
The Marsh Tackies were left feral before they became the main workforce for the people on the east coast. They played a significant role in South Carolina’s history. Historical records of the American Revolutionary War talk about the Tacky horse being used by the famous U.S. General Francis Marion a.k.a “Swampfox”. He easily traversed the swamps of South Carolina and escaped the British cavalry. Marsh Tackies were also used by the southern troops in the Civil War. In WWII, they were used by the US Coast guard for beach patrols to look out for enemy activity.
The Marsh Tackies were virtually the end-all for the people of South Carolina but due to the advancement in farming equipment and transportation, these horses lost their usefulness. So much so that they became extinct by the 1990s.
However, after the formation of the CMTA (Carolina Marsh Tacky Association) in 2007, their numbers improved considerably, but they still remain critically endangered. DNA tests have been performed on the remaining horses and a breed registry has been developed by the Livestock Conservancy.
In honor of the long history of the Marsh Tacky in the state of South Carolina, it was named the South Carolina State Heritage Horse in 2010.
The Marsh Tackies are small-sized, agile horses with long manes and tails that are well suited for coastal climates. They have an in-built “woods sense” and the ability to navigate water and swampy areas without panicking or getting stuck.
They have a characteristic athletic and well-balanced build and are powerful and sure-footed. Their strong-looking face, thick mane, and tail are distinctive. They are known to be intelligent and tough and can withstand the heat and humidity quite well. Their hide is thicker and they have thick solid hooves.
They have tremendous stamina and work easily in wetlands and swamps. Historically, their small size, gentle and calm nature made them the preferred choice for women and children. But, due to their sturdiness and abilities in the field, they came to be a popular choice among men as well.
These easy keeper horses require a diet with balanced nutrients. A healthy quality of grain, forages, vitamins, minerals, carbs and clean water should be given.
Breeding And Uses
Traditionally, the Marsh Tackies were managed as feral animals. Whenever needed, people would simply round them up, select the best ones and set the rest free. They were then were captured and domesticated by Native Americans and began to be used as pack horses primarily by the Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw tribes.
Living like wild animals in the wetlands and swamps of the east coast, these horses developed resilience and stamina. Their gentle nature and toughness, makes them common horses of the area.
They began to be used for ranching, hunting. For the Sea Island Gullah community, they became an integral part of agricultural work.
These horses came to be owned by the rich and poor alike, for carrying children to school, delivering mail, herding cattle, and plowing fields.
During the American Revolutionary War and WWII, they were extensively used as cavalry and patrol horses respectively. During the 1960s, these horses were used for races on the Hilton Head beach for about a decade.
The Carolina Marsh Tacky is a small-sized but strong horse.
They weigh somewhere between 700-900 pounds. The average height of this horse is 14.2 hands but they are usually between 13.2 to 15 hands high.
What Breeds Make Up The Carolina Marsh?
While these animals have adapted to the coastal climate over the last 400 years, their genetic ties to the original Spanish horses remain relatively pure.
However, they do have the same ancestral bloodlines as the Florida Cracker horses and the North Carolina Banker horses. But, due to their relative isolation in the South Carolina Sea Islands and Lowcountry, they remain a separate breed consistent with the old Colonial Spanish horses but with unique characteristics.
The Carolina Tacky horses mostly display solid colors. Some of them may have dorsal stripes or zebra leg striping.
Below mentioned are few coat colors of Carolina Tacky:
- Dun: Neutral grey-brown coat color with a dark stripe down the spine.
- Bay: Reddish-brown or brown colored coat with a black colored mane and tail.
- Roan: Coat having a base color (red, black, or brown) muted by a mixture of white hair.
- Chestnut: Reddish-brown to coffee-colored coat with the same or lighter colored mane.
- Pinto: The coat has large patches of white with any other color
- Grulla: Also called the blu, gray, or mouse dun. The Grulla color is characterized by a tan-gray or mouse-colored coat with shoulder and dorsal stripes and black barring on lower legs.
What Do They Look Like?
This breed of horse features a usually flat but somewhat concave head, which is slightly convex from the nasal region to the top of the muzzle. Their forehead is wide and eyes are bold and set well apart. This breed has a slight ewe neck that is attached comparatively lower on the chest.
The withers are pronounced and the back is short and strong, and the croup is steeply angled. There is generally no feathering on the legs. The legs have a long tapering muscle and the feet are well balanced with sturdy hooves.
In a study conducted by Mississippi State University, it was found that marsh tackies have a unique four-beat ambling gait that is named the ‘Swamp Fox Trot’. There is quadrupedal support wherein all the feet are planted and have diagonal foot pairings.
What Are They Used For?
Marsh Tackies are level-headed, easy to keep and train, and are excellent for farm or agricultural work, endurance competitions, trail riding, and hunting.
They are used primarily for:
- Endurance riding
- Trail riding
- Herding cattle
- Pleasure mounting
- Racing on the Hilton Head beaches
Where Do They Live?
The exact origin of the Carolina Marsh Tacky is unknown but they came to the United States from Spain and became a very common breed along the east coast. However, now they are a rare breed found only in the islands and coastal regions of South Carolina.
How Long Do They Live?
Marsh Tackies are strong and robust horses and generally live long healthy lives. They do not have any prevalent health issues. The average life expectancy of this horse breed is about 30 years.
How Fast Are They?
Marsh Tackies are reliable horses. Being left in the wild, they are accustomed to challenges and do not flee during an unexpected situation. They adapt easily. They are perfect for going on long trails and tread through woods, water, and swamps easily. They may not be the biggest and fastest horses but they are resourceful, sure-footed, and trustworthy.
Are They Good For Beginners?
The Carolina Marsh Tacky is probably the best horse for beginners because of its gentle and calm nature. They do not panic easily and remain alert.
These horses are easy to train and do not require a lot of upkeep. Traditionally, they were primarily used by women and children and known. They are adaptable and athletic and also extremely intelligent.
The ALBC and CMTA organizes race for Marsh Tacky every year to increase breed awareness among the people and to provide financial support for the horses.
In 2010, Carlina March Tacky were designated as “State Heritage Gorses” of South Carolina.
In 2015, a 200 years old skeleton of Carolina Marsh Tacky was dug up at an archeological site near St. Augustine.
The intelligence, gentle nature, and resourcefulness of the Carolina Marsh Tacky cannot be stressed enough. They are not only great for beginners but for all kinds of purposes. This breed would without doubt make a great family horse.
Efforts are being made continuously by various organizations to get this breed out of the critically endangered category. People must understand and recognize all that the marsh tacky has to offer and partake in its journey towards survival.