Monday, May 26, 2008

Searching for Marsh Tackies

Searching For the Marsh Tacky

Deborah knew where they were. I was visiting my daughter in South Carolina, where I have developed a deep interest in my State’s wild horses. Now, I wanted to see South Carolina’s wild horses, known locally as marsh tackies.

She drove us down long back roads, lined with trees that dripped Spanish moss. Finally we reached her destination, a private road on one of the many islands in Beaufort County. At the end of the road a barbed wire fence ran between the marsh and the road.

Not a horse in sight anywhere. We pondered the idea of pulling in someone’s driveway to ask. But none were “inviting.” So we turned around to leave. That’s when we saw a gentleman walking some dogs.

Deborah stopped along side of him to inquire about the wild horses.

“They don’t exist,” he replied, “And we’re all friends down here, so if we catch anyone trespassing we stick together.” Nope, not inviting at all. Deborah’s smile warmed him a little. He told us that one had gotten mired down in the marsh a while back. It took a community effort to rescue the horses, which then made the news. With that came activists who were upset the horse was “allowed” to wander in the muddy marsh. “They aren’t owned by anyone,” he said in a no-nonsense tone.

“Do you know anywhere else we might find some to photograph,” I asked, and explained I was a writer working on a book about east coast wild horses. That’s when he told us all about the man who had a hundred of them and loved to talk about them and show them off. “The paper ran a story about them just a while back.”

Encouraged by that information we went home and looked the article up on The Beaufort Gazette’s website. Next day, armed with the name, DP Lowther, we drove to Ridgeland, SC. It wasn’t easy finding Mr. Lowther’s farm since the road sign had been stolen, but after asking directions twice we were successful. Mr. Lowther wasn’t around, but a farm worker gave us permission to go look and take pictures.

Mr. Lowther, according to the Gazette article, breeds and sells the Marsh Tackies. His 250-acre farm provides them plenty of roaming room. The horses varied in color and range in size from about 14 to 15 hands. While chestnuts were the dominate color, I spied a beautiful little dun that after inspiring a certain amount of curiosity on his part got close enough to the fence for me to snap some photos. Roans, blacks and one gray also stood out in the pasture.

After taking two rolls of film we went back to thank the gentleman for letting us see the horses. He took time to tell us an amusing story. He said it was a July 4th weekend that the stallion, who was up in the barn for the night, unlocked his stall door, trotted down the lane to a pasture where fifty mares were kept, tore down the fence, herded up his girls and took them down the road and into town.

“The mare’s weren’t that hard to catch, but the stallion hid in the woods for a few days before I found him.” The farmer chuckled. Evidently the little stallion was tired of the game, because he let himself be led home with only a lead rope wrapped around his neck.

I took one last glance at the pastoral scene. The descendants of horses ridden by colonial explorers, bred by English farmers to plow, ride and drive. In the 1950s when automobiles and bridges to South Carolina’s islands made the horses obsolete some horses were simply turned loose to fend for themselves. They ran wild for a few more years, and then were gradually pushed aside for development and progress. If it were not for a handful of people like Mr. Lowther, who saw a reason to preserve this part of Low Country heritage, they would all be gone.

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