Friday, June 11, 2010

South Carolina’s Heritage Horse

As of this June, South Carolina has its own official State Heritage Horse. This is the Marsh Tacky Horse, a rare breed native to the coastal areas of the state. Descended from the original horses brought to the new world from Spain, the Marsh Tacky once roamed in feral herds throughout South Carolina’s low country. Sure-footed and hardy, the horses were often used for transportation and are said to have been the mounts of General Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero, whose forces repeatedly stymied the British by disappearing into a maze of swamp trails along the coast. This earned Marion the nickname “Swamp Fox” as well as the title “Father of American Guerilla Warfare.”

The Marsh Tacky is a small horse, standing 13 to 15 hands high. It comes in a range of colors, but is often dun, grullo or roan, colors often associated with horses descended from Spanish stock. Its most notable trait is its calm, level-headed temperament. People who ride Marsh Tackies says that they are extremely comfortable, and a recent study conducted at Mississippi State University showed that the horses are actually gaited, performing a “broken trot” in which the diagonal pairs of legs are disassociated as they hit the ground, creating a smoother ride. The gait is quite distinctive, and appears to be closest to the marcha batida gait performed by the Mangalarga Marchador, which is the national horse of Brazil. The Marsh Tacky gait doesn’t have an official name yet, but some candidates include “Swamp Fox Trot” and “Barrier Island Shuffle.”

The American Rare Breeds Conservancy lists the Marsh Tacky as “critical” on its endangered species list. The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, formed in 2007, currently has just 252 horses listed on its registry, but is in the process of devising a strategy to preserve the breed while optimizing and protecting its genetic diversity.

The bill to get the Marsh Tacky recognized as the official breed of South Carolina passed the State Senate in April and the State House on June 1. It was ratified on June 7. Also this June, the North Carolina House of Representative designated the Colonial Spanish Mustang as that state’s official horse. Governor Bev Perdue is expected to sign that bill into law this month.

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