Raising South Carolina’s state horse.
By Hope S. Philbrick
The state horse of South Carolina is small but mighty—some might say like the state itself.
The horse and the state share a long history.
“The Marsh Tacky breed dates back to the 1500s,” says Marion Broach, owner of Heritage Stables. “Columbus brought them over first.”
Marsh Tacky horses are small, very strong “and can endure most anything,” says Broach. They have a strong instinct to survive—thus were the horses that swam to shore after shipwrecks. The ‘Marsh’ part of the name comes from the fact that these horses could survive in marshlands. The ‘Tacky’ part is due to the fact that some folks consider(ed) the breed to be less elegant than other breeds. “That tacky part just shows they were commonly undervalued,” says Broach. “These are versatile horses that can do water, mud, briar—they pay no attention and just go right through them.” (Another explanation is that ‘tacky’ denotes ‘common,’ since these horses were the most populous breed for centuries in the Lowcountry from Myrtle Beach, S.C. to St. Simons Island, Ga.)
Marsh Tacky characteristics include a dorsal stripe, three-color mane and tail, double main, one less vertebrae and zebra-like stripes on the legs. Typically, these horses do not need shoes.
In 2009, Broach bought his first Marsh Tacky and has been hooked on the breed ever since. “There’s a prestige of their being the state horse,” he admits. “It’s a privilege to own them and ride them.”
Broach currently owns nine Marsh Tacky horses. “You can use them for anything,” he says, “hunting, jumping, dressage, riding, anything.”
“The way they handle themselves is impressive,” he says. “We’ve taken professional cowboys out and they say these horses are the Jeep of the swamp.”
In the 1800s, naturalist John James Audubon described Marsh Tackies as “tough as pine knots.” Even today, hunters who traverse the Great Pee Dee Swamp swear by the breed, citing the horses’ ability to get stuck less often and extract themselves from muck that would make other breeds panic and sink. Among other characteristics, the gait of the breed is unique, though similar to a foxtrot. In 2010, the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association coined the phrase Swamp Fox Trot to describe the gait with a nod to General Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero who was nicknamed the Swamp Fox.
In the 1980s, the Marsh Tacky breed was thought to be extinct. However, in 2005, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy searched for and confirmed through DNA testing more than 100 horses to be of the original Marsh Tacky breed. Since then, a concerted effort to rebuild the population has been underway. Founded in 2009, Heritage Stables has been an important part of that effort.
Marsh Tacky horses are sweet, friendly and have delicate features. Visit Heritage Stables to see Marsh Tacky horses up close and prepare to fall in love.
3603 West John Paul Jones Road
– Photo Credits: top 3 by Dwain D. Snyder Equestrian Images courtesy Visit Florence; remainder © HSP Media LLC
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