The Marsh Tacky, South Carolina’s State Heritage Horse

The Carolina Marsh Tacky derived its name tacky from the English word common. These horses were the most common breed for centuries from the Myrtle Beach area down to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. While their origin is uncertain, the breed can be linked to the Spanish explorers and Native American traders of the 1500s. Their most memorable role in history, however, occurred during the American Revolution. They easily navigated the hot, dense Pee Dee swamps with Patriot General Francis Marion and his men, where the horses of the British cavalry could not. Marion’s riding of the Marsh Tacky resulted in his being called “The Swamp Fox.”

In the 1800s, naturalist John James Audubon described Marsh Tackies as “tough as pine knots.” Even today, hunters who traverse the Great Pee Dee Swamp swear by these horses, citing their ability to get stuck less often and to adeptly extract themselves from mucky areas, where other breeds might panic and sink.

Among other characteristics, the gait of the breed is unique, though very similar, to the foxtrot. In 2010, the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association coined the phrase Swamp Fox Trot for their distinctive pattern and as a nod to General Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.

By the 1980s, the breed was thought to be extinct. However, in 2005, the American Livestock Breed Conservancy searched for and confirmed through DNA testing more than 100 horses to be of the original Marsh Tacky breed. Since then, a concerted effort to rebuild the population has been underway.

Carolina Marsh Tacky Outdoors, located in Florence County, has been an important part of that effort.