Marsh tacky races to gallop off Saturday on Daufuskie

cconley@islandpacket.comApril 24, 2013 

Brittany Bowen and her horse, Molly, gallop down the beach at the 3rd Annual Marsh Tacky Run and Exhibition at Coligny Beach Park on Hilton Head Island.

FILE, STAFF PHOTO — null

  • The fifth annual Marsh Tacky Beach Race will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday on Daufuskie Island, near Melrose on the Beach. Ferry rides to the island from Savannah and Hilton Head Island will be available for $45 to $50. Details: marshtackybeachracedaufuskie.com.

Long before the tourists and second-home owners discovered Daufuskie Island, native islanders raced small workhorses known as marsh tackies there.

Similar races took place on other Sea Islands on the South Carolina and Georgia coasts. Winners claimed bragging rights and little else.

"They used to have them all the time," said Jackie McFadden, secretary of the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association. "They were held after the harvest. It was a fun time after the work was done."

On Saturday, marsh tackies will return to Daufuskie's wide, sandy beaches during the fifth annual Marsh Tacky Beach Race. Races will be near Melrose on the Beach, a resort on the island's eastern shore, starting at 2 p.m.

"As Daufuskie was one of the last habitable islands hereabout to be 'civilized,' we had free-roaming tackies much later than just about anywhere else," island resident Roger Pinckney said in an email. "A significant portion of the breed's genetic foundation came from Daufuskie, so having the races here is a homecoming."

Previous marsh tacky races were held on neighboring Hilton Head Island during the annual Gullah Celebration. The event was moved after two sponsors pulled out late last year.

The venue has changed, but the format will be the same. Riders atop saddled mares, geldings and stallions will push the small horses to run as fast as possible over the 400-yard beach course. Winners in each class will get trophies and the chance to compete for the Marsh Tacky Cup, which goes to the fastest horse. About 20 horses are expected to compete.

Organizers acknowledge challenges in hosting the event on an island with no bridge. Spectators must pay up to $50 for ferry tickets or make other arrangements to reach the island. The horses will be hauled over on a barge the night before.

Hundreds are expected to attend the races -- far fewer than the several thousand who watched on Hilton Head.

Nonetheless, the event has provided a modest jolt to the island's tourism business. Lodging is proving scarce, and marina space is filling up fast.

"The word today is there are no places to stay unless you know somebody," Pinckney said. "And there are no (golf) carts available no matter who you know!"

An official at Melrose on the Beach confirmed that most available rooms were booked.

Marsh tackies are shorter than most standard breeds -- about 5 feet tall -- and weigh anywhere from 800 to 1,000 pounds. They are known as tough workhorses with a calm demeanor.

Thousands of the horses once inhabited the Sea Islands, but only about 300 are registered today with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Marion Gohagan, who lives near Estill, traces the horse's decline to the rise of automobiles and mechanized farming in the 1960s.

"When tractors and automobiles came onto the scene, nobody would really need them anymore, and they stopped breeding them," he said.

Gohagan, who hunts with his horses, said the boom of a 12-gauge blast doesn't faze the animals.

"They've had so many guns shot off them, when a deer jumps up they will drop their head down," said Gohagan, who owns 11 tackies and plans to race two on Saturday.

It's too soon to know if the races will be back on Daufuskie next year. McFadden said that will depend largely on whether this year's races are successful.

But residents like Pinckney say the races could raise the island's profile after down years that saw major resorts go bankrupt and real estate values plummet.

"Going into a first-time event like this, it's impossible to make predictions as far as attendance and economic impact," he added. "But it can't help but raise awareness. There is so much more to Daufuskie other than real estate and golf."

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

Related content:

Marsh Tacky Race information

Carolina Marsh Tacky Association

Marsh tacky horse races moving from Hilton Head to Daufuskie, Jan. 9, 2013

Acrimony, controversy end Hilton Head marsh tacky races, Nov. 24, 2012

Native islander, marsh tacky group disagree on who can compete in annual run, March 19, 2012

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