Horses have been present on Seabrook Island for generations, none more highly prized than the Carolina Marsh Tacky, now the official Heritage Horse of South Carolina and deeply entwined with Lowcountry history. We're fortunate to have one of this rare breed as part of the herd at the Equestrian Center, where Silky has become a favorite mount for beach and trail rides on the island.
The ancestors of today's Marsh Tackies first arrived on the Carolina coast with Spanish conquistadors in the 17th century. Left behind when Spanish colonizing efforts failed to gain a foothold against competition from British and French rivals , the feral herd adapted to the rigors of the Lowcountry climate to evolve into today's Marsh Tackies, with thick manes, tails and skin for protection against insects, snake bites and dense underbrush. More importantly, the breed developed extraordinarily strong hooves, so strong that today's Tackies don't require shoes, an especially important advantage when striding through pluff mud. Tackies have even developed a unique behavior to free themselves if they become stuck in the mud: where most other horses would react frantically and work themselves deeper, Tackies will calmly lay on their sides and edge themselves out of trouble.
This unique breed was favored in Revolutionary War times by Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox", who was able to negotiate such treacherous terrain thanks to these physical traits and the breed's much-prized calm, steady temperament and comfortable gait. Confederate troops were often able to out-maneuver mounted Union forces for the same reason during the Civil War.
Even into modern times, the Marsh Tacky was used to patrol the coastline for German submarines during World War Two as part of mounted "Sand Pounder" volunteer patrols.
Bloodlines are now carefully registered and monitored by the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, thanks to a DNA registry developed by the Livestock Conservancy. Look for Silky, with her dark mane and buckskin-like coat, the next time you drive by the Equestrian Center.