The Carolina Marsh Tacky developed from Spanish horses brought to the island and coastal areas of South Carolina by Spanish explorers and settlers as early as the 16th century. More horses were added to the population that would become the Marsh Tacky through animals that were purchased in the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in Florida. They were then used as pack horses on Native American trade routes, and sold when the traders reached Charleston. They were managed mainly as feral herds, rounded up by locals when horses were needed, and this tradition continued into the 20th century. The breed was used during the American Revolution by many of the irregular forces of Francis Marion, nicknamed the "Swamp Fox". The swamp savvy of the Marsh Tacky may have given Marion's forces an advantage, as British cavalry mounted on larger European breeds were not as easily able to maneuver in the dense lowland swamps. After the American Civil War, they were commonly used by members of the Gullah community on the islands off the South Carolina shore for use in fields and gardens. The breed derives the "tacky" part of its name from the English word meaning "common" or "cheap", as these horses were the most common breed in their area of the country for most of their history. During the height of their popularity they ranged from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to St. Simon's Island in Georgia. The Tackies continued to be used during World War II by members of the beach patrols tasked with the surveillance of South Carolina beaches against Nazi u-boats attacks and enemy troop or spy landings. During the 1960s, Marsh Tackies were used in races on Hilton Head beaches. This tradition was revived in 2009 during the Gullah Cultural Festival, and the races will be continued at the festival in future years.
In 2007, the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association was formed. The association was developed through the efforts of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy working with owners and breed enthusiasts, with the goal of preserving and promoting the Marsh Tacky breed. The breed registry became a closed registry on August 18, 2010, and is maintained by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy Pedigree Registry. Although closed, outside horses can be registered upon proof of origin, visual inspection and DNA confirmation of parentage.
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