The Carolina Marsh Tacky is a critically endangered horse breed native to the Lowcountry of South Carolina. These horses belong to a group of Colonial Spanish breeds descended from Iberian horses brought to America by early Spanish explorers.

Bred to live and work in challenging swamp conditions, Marsh Tackies served key roles in American history and culture. While the breed is still the official state horse of South Carolina, the Marsh Tacky now faces an uncertain future.

This endangered breed has only survived thanks to local conservation efforts and revived beach racing traditions that showcase their unique abilities.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, conformation, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Marsh Tacky breed. Keep reading to learn more about care and mangement for Marsh Tacky horses.

Marsh Tacky Horse History

The history of the Marsh Tacky breed goes back several centuries to the first settlements in the Southeastern Colonies. The Tacky name comes from the old-fashioned word for common, reflecting their status as the most common horse in the Lowcountry.


The ancestors of Marsh Tacky horses descend from Spanish colonial horses imported to the Americas as early as the 16th century. Settlers brought some of these horses to Santa Elena, a Spanish settlement on present-day Parris Island.

After early Spanish settlements failed, the horses left behind formed feral herds. Spanish horses from Florida spread throughout the American Southeast, establishing founding populations for several Colonial Spanish horse breeds, including the Florida Cracker, Shackleford Banks, and Tackies. [1]

Free-roaming herds in the Lowcountry adapted to the coastal environment, living off marsh grasses and traversing swampy wetlands. Locals captured and domesticated the horses, and the breed quickly became the most popular horse in the region.

Historic Use

South Carolina residents of all social statuses owned Marsh Tackies. The versatile breed fulfilled a variety of jobs as all-around horses in Colonial America. Owners used Tackies to plow fields, deliver messages, pack goods on trade routes, herd cattle, hunt, and more.

Colonists rode Marsh Tackies into battle during the American Revolution. Tackies allowed Francis Marion, the military officer nicknamed the Swamp Fox, to outmaneuver the British cavalry in the lowland swamps. [2]

During World War II, beach patrols rode Marsh Tackies to survey the South Carolina coast for Nazi U-boats and enemy spy landings. After the war, owners began using their Tackies in beach races at Hilton Head.

The races stopped when breed numbers declined in the late 20th century. Only approximately 100 Marsh Tackies remained in South Carolina by 2007 when renewed interest in the breed saved these horses from extinction.

Breed Registry

The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association (CMTA) is the official breed organization established in 2007 to preserve and promote the Marsh Tacky breed.

The CMTA closed the Marsh Tacky studbook in 2010 to protect the purity of the breed. Foals of registered dams and sires are immediately eligible for registration. The inspection committee considers exceptions based on DNA testing and breed type.

A closed studbook protects the breed standards shaped by centuries of life in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

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Breed Characteristics


Marsh Tackies have an average height of 14 to 14.2 hands. Their small builds allowed them to travel over soft terrain more easily than heavier breeds.

These horses have a balanced and athletic general appearance. Some Marsh Tackies are gaited, but all horses should have smooth, fluid movement.

Their heads have flat or slightly concave profiles with wide-set eyes, fine muzzles, and short to medium ears with an inward pointing notch. Most Marsh Tackies feature necks that are set lower on their chests compared to other horse breeds.

Other conformation traits include pronounced withers, short backs, angled croups, low-set tails, deep chests, and tough hooves.


All coat colours are acceptable in the Marsh Tacky breed. Common colours include:

  • Bay
  • Black
  • Grullo
  • Dun
  • Blue Roan
  • Bay Roan


While most Marsh Tackies share common physical characteristics, their temperament is also a vital breed trait.

Most Marsh Tackies have excellent temperaments. The breed is generally calm and levelheaded, even under challenging situations. Their bravery and intelligence help these horses navigate through dense swamplands.

Marsh Tackies are popular with riders of all levels because of their gentle nature and reliability. However, personalities can vary between individual horses.


The Marsh Tacky is an ideal breed for trail riding on the beach, thanks to its surefootedness, temperament, and Carolinian heritage. The same versatility that once made Marsh Tackies the most common horse breed in South Carolina now enables them to excel across a wide range of disciplines.

Marsh Tacky owners commonly use their horses for endurance, working cattle, and pleasure riding. Some Marsh Tacky horses work as ambassadors for the breed at museums and heritage centers on the Carolina coast.

Health Profile

While specific health issues in Marsh Tackies have not been extensively studied, the breed’s small breeding population poses a risk of genetic disorders. Additionally, given their close