New marsh tacky, Daufuskie Darling, arrives at Hilton Head museum

rlurye@islandpacket.comNovember 10, 2013 

The Coastal Discovery Museum has a new marsh tacky on loan -- a 7-month-old filly named Daufuskie Darling.

A 4-year-old boy paced the horse paddock at Honey Horn midday Friday, scrutinizing what had changed since his last visit.

There was the same water bucket and hose, the same brown horse named Comet, the same outdated sign naming two other horses that have since left the Coastal Discovery Museum. But nibbling at the grass was a new addition, a small marsh tacky the color of milk with a drop of coffee.

Though he leaned into the fence, Colton Hatch of Bluffton didn't reach out to touch 7-month-old Daufuskie Darling -- just in case "they like to eat fingers and toes," his grandmother said.

On Friday, the filly stuck to hay, but Hatch was smart to be cautious -- young marsh tackies haven't yet learned "horse manners," the museum sign notes.

In fact, Darling, who arrived on Hilton Head Island on Nov. 1, won't learn to be ridden until she returns to the Scotia farm where she was born, museum president and CEO Michael Marks said.

Until then, her job is simply to spark the public's interest in her endangered breed.

There are only about 300 left in the country, despite the tacky's deep history in South Carolina. The Gullah community used the horses for everything from field work and transportation to celebrating the holidays by racing them.

The more people who learn about marsh tackies, the better chance the horses have for survival, Jackie McFadden of the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association said.

"If we get more people involved who can take the horses and raise them and breed them, that would help us get the numbers up," she said.

Last year, about 98,000 people visited the Coastal Discovery Museum, Marks said. It's safe to say most hung around the paddock at some point, he said.

"It's great for us to be able to have not only an interpretive panel about a marsh tacky horse and its involvement here in the cultural heritage of the Lowcountry, but two living examples of them," Marks said.

While many of the country's remaining marsh tackies live on private farms closed to the public, 19-year-old Comet is a permanent fixture of the Coastal Discovery Museum. He has a companion thanks to owner and breeder Marion Gohagan, who has loaned a few of his youngest horses, like Darling, to the museum for a few years at a time.

Despite the age difference, Darling and Comet have grown close in the last week, he said. As Comet walked to the shade, Darling lifted a back leg mid-graze and gingerly scratched the side of her face.

"They're kind of buddies out in the pasture," Marks said. "They'll kind of look at each other occasionally to make sure they're in eyesight, and then they'll go back to doing what horses do, which is eat and sleep."

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Related content: Marsh tacky at Honey Horn brings Lowcountry heritage full circle, November 12, 2012

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

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

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