Meet the Marsh Tacky Horse

Known for its big heart and can-do attitude, this critically endangered horse breed is hoofing its way to a comeback after near extinction.


If you’re not from the low country of South Carolina, odds are you aren’t familiar with the Marsh Tacky. For starters, if you’re wondering why a horse would have the word “tacky” in its name, you have to look back into history to learn that the name is derived from the English word for “cheap” or “common.” For most of their history, Marsh Tackies were the most common horse in the swampy and marshy regions of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. They were used for riding, pulling, and anything else horsepower was needed for. The breed could be found from as far north as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to as far south as St. Simons Island, Georgia, until the advent of the automobile. As the car replaced the horse, the Marsh Tacky began to disappear. Until recently, the ancient breed was thought to have gone extinct; but through the dedicated work of those committed to preserving the Marsh Tacky, the population remained intact, and continues to grow today.

Although the exact origin of the Marsh Tacky is unclear, it can be attributed to Spanish stock that arrived on the coast and islands of South Carolina in the 1500s, brought over by Spanish explorers and settlers. A number of Spanish horse populations along the southeast coast thrived and became feral herds. (Some of the more famous herds comprise the Banker ponies of North Carolina.) A further influx of Spanish horses made their way to Charleston, South Carolina, through the Native American deerskin trade. Spanish horses were acquired at the St. Augustine Spanish settlement (in modern-day Florida), and were used as pack animals along the trade routes of the Chickasaw, Creek, and Choctaw tribes. The horses were sold once they arrived in Charleston, bolstering the population of Spanish horses that would become the Marsh Tacky. Until their near extinction in the late 20th century, Tackies were managed primarily as feral herds on the low country and coastal islands, rounded up by local residents whenever there was a need for horses.


Breed Insight

The Marsh Tacky is a sturdy, well-balanced, and easy-keeping horse with a sharp mind. Owners will attest to the ease of training that’s characteristic of the breed. Newly broke horses can often be ridden and worked within weeks of having a saddle placed on their backs. The Tacky’s thoughtful approach to novel items and experiences reduces the likelihood of panic and flight, unlike high-strung breeds. Famous naturalist John James Audubon noted during his travels in South Carolina that local Marsh Tacky horses were “tough as pine knots.”

In a study by Mississippi State University’s Gaited Locomotive Research Program, it was found that the Marsh Tacky has a unique gait, named the “Swamp Fox Trot,” which contributes to its ability to be worked or ridden all day without either the horse or rider tiring.

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