Land & Conservation

Dispatch from Daufuskie: Little Horse, Big Heart

For the first time in decades, a Marsh Tacky is born on the island

photo: Tony Geyston / Daufuskie Marsh Tacky Society

Mare and foal, shortly after the historic arrival.

You get here by boat and only if you want to—Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, the last snip of sand before Georgia, where a conference call is three neighbors jawing out their pickup windows.

And there’s plenty to jaw about lately. Residents have been counting the days to the birth of the first Marsh Tacky foal on the island in at least forty years.

Last Friday, it happened. There was a new filly on the ground, yet unnamed. She’s blonde but that will change. Maybe a buckskin, maybe a grulla, maybe a blue roan. Time will tell.

photo: Tony Geyston / Daufuskie Marsh Tacky Society

The newborn comes in for a closeup.

Designated the South Carolina State Heritage Horse in 2010, Tackies have a five-hundred-year history in these parts. Around fourteen hands high and seven to eight hundred pounds, these little horses are known to be level-headed, easy to keep, easy to train, sure-footed, and tough as an oak plank. DNA traces them back to Spanish war mounts from the 1500s.

Native Americans rode them, as did Revolutionary and Rebel cavalry. They pulled plows and wagons, carried the midwife and the mail. During World War II, Coastguardsmen patrolled beaches from Georgetown to Jacksonville with Tackies and tommy guns.

Henry Ford and John Deere eventually put an end to their necessity. On Daufuskie, the last of the Tackies were barged away to keep them off golf courses in the early 1980s. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy declared the Marsh Tacky “critically endangered,” on a fast track to extinction.

But hold your horses. The Tackies are back on Daufuskie thanks to Tony Geyston and Erica Veit, founders of the non-profit Daufuskie Marsh Tacky Society, dedicated to bringing these horses back to their ancestral home on the island.

photo: Tony Geyston / Daufuskie Marsh Tacky Society

Rest time for the new filly.

“This is the way we will do it,” Erica says, “one horse at a time.”

A mare is most secretive. Like the proverbial pot, she won’t boil if you’re watching. But as the sun slipped off toward Savannah, there was magic stirring in the Spanish moss and a gentle nickering with the moonrise. And by sunrise, Daufuskie had a foal.

To learn more about the Daufuskie Marsh Tacky Society, go to daufuskiemarshtackysociety.org.