Rare Equines Making a Comeback

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Jeannette Beranger/ALBC
Eowyn, a Marsh Tacky filly owned by Jeannette Beranger of Pittsboro, North Carolina, runs for the fun of it.

Thought to be extinct until recently, the water-loving Marsh Tacky horse is swimming its way to survival. The elegant equine had called the islands and swampy regions of coastal South Carolina and Georgia home for several hundred years when numbers plummeted as the demand for hay-burning horsepower was replaced with petroleum power. Today, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) estimates there are fewer than 150 pure Marsh Tackies remaining.

This American breed traces its roots to “drop off” stock brought over the Atlantic by Spanish explorers and settlers in the 1500s. Marsh Tackies are distinguished by their ability to thrive in challenging conditions with a high level of stamina. The horses are known for their ease in traveling through water obstacles and swamps without panicking or getting stuck in the mud, a surefooted and smooth gait, intelligence and thoughtfulness.

One breeder says “if a horse panics in the water, it isn’t a Marsh Tacky.” Owners also point to an ease of training that is characteristic of the breed. Many of the horses are owned by hunters and longtime fanciers, and while their gentle nature and smaller size (131/2 to 15 hands) make the Marsh Tacky an ideal mount for beginning riders and children, the breed’s strength and fearlessness in the field have made it a popular working animal for hunting and herding.

The ALBC began investigating the Marsh Tacky in 2006, in an effort to discover whether the breed descends from early Spanish horses. The team’s effort, lead by Phillip Sponenberg of Virginia Tech’s Veterinary College, gave rise to a major conservation effort for the breed, as well as the creation of the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association to support and promote the animals.

The group’s first meeting is set for April 5 in Johns Island, South Carolina. Contact Jeannette Beranger with the ALBC for more information.

“Colonial Spanish horses are of great historic importance in the New World,” Sponenberg says. “They descend from horses introduced from Spain during the age of the conquest of the New World. They are a direct remnant of the horses of the Golden Age of Spain, and that type is mostly or wholly extinct now in Spain. Our Colonial Spanish horses are, therefore, a treasure chest of genetic wealth from a time long gone.”

The Marsh Tacky horse remains a living piece of history, having endured for more than 400 years, and as long as enthusiasts and conservationists work together, the breed has the potential to survive for many years to come.

For more information from The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy