The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette will update readers on some of the most memorable people we covered in 2016. Here is the fifth story in our “Where are they now?” series.
D.P. Lowther told the story of the auction as he sat in his truck, his right foot tapping a dull beat on the floorboard for the first and only time this gray December morning.
Lowther had sat with the auctioneer on July 2 at the Folly Moon Farm in Ridgeland as folks from Florida and West Virginia and parts in between bid on his horses, laying claim to almost half his herd — 53 of them would not be making the three-mile trip home to the Double-L Farm.
He was hurting.
Never miss a local story.
It’d taken him more than a year to convince himself it was time to sell his marsh tackies — South Carolina’s state heritage horse native to its Sea Islands, the endangered breed some credit him with saving — a story he shared with this reporter six months earlier. But, at the moment, parting with his horses wasn’t the cause of his pain.
He had a concussion — undiagnosed — thanks to one of his mares.
Two days before the auction, the horse grew antsy as it was tagged and examined in a chute, a procedure it had already endured a couple of times in the weeks leading up to the event. This time it jumped out, or tried to. The mare pushed the chute wall — a metal gate — onto Lowther, who hit his head as he was thrown to the muddy ground.
“Just that quick,” Lowther said, gesturing with a calloused hand as he sat in the truck.
Banged up, he went to the Folly Moon Farm, where the pain would eventually catch up with him.
Lowther hauled his entire herd there in July — more than 100 animals, the descendents of horses such as Hacksaw and Crankshaft, marsh tackies he and his father collected from the islands decades ago. Currently, there are fewer than 400 documented marsh tackies, according to the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, of which Lowther serves as president. All told, the Lowthers have nurtured the breed for more than 100 years.
“You know, I ain’t getting no younger,” Lowther, 84, joked.
You know, I ain’t getting no younger.
Earlier on this December morning, he walked among some of his remaining horses in a pasture on a 150-acre tract of land at the Double-L Farm. A 3-year-old stud, its coarse, black winter coat masking its roan coloring, followed his every move.
That stud, Lowther said, is his new breeding horse, a smaller marsh tacky at 14 hands — about 56 inches tall from its front hoofs to its withers, the ridge between its shoulder blades — a horse that will get a bit bigger but which will, hopefully, produce smaller foals that will grow into “ideal” marsh tackies.
“About 14.5, 14.3 hands,” Lowther said, explaining a hand equals approximately four inches. “Between 800, 850 pounds.”
He gestured to a mare that stood about 15 hands and weighed roughly 1,000 pounds, and told of plans to make his herd’s bloodline smaller.
As he stepped around clumps of hay and manure, he passed pregnant mares and newborn colts. Moments later, in a second pasture, he pointed out a dark-colored colt with a blaze of white on its face.
He bought that colt after the auction, he said, after its mother, pregnant at the time, was sold to another owner. That owner didn’t want the newborn colt, and Lowther didn’t want it sold to someone he didn’t know.
“I can’t tell you why,” he said of buying the colt. “It’s just in you — it’s instinct.”
He talked of paring down his herd to “20 or 25” marsh tackies, but he doubts he’ll do another auction. At the moment he’s got “around 60” horses, and he hasn’t settled on a strategy to shrink his stock.
“It’s something that needs to be done, but I don’t care about doing it,” he said. “Put it off, put it off, put it off.”
Some folks criticized his decision to auction the horses, he said. They worried the animals might end up in the wrong hands. Lowther worried about that, too, but said he knows some of the buyers well. Those he doesn’t, he’ll keep an eye on.
“In a way, afterward, it was the best thing for the horses,” he said.
In a way, afterward, it was the best thing for the horses.
As his marsh tackies find homes in new parts of the country, more people learn about the breed. And for Lowther, a man who’s “on the sunset side” of life, as he said in June, and who’s living on a pension after laboring for and leading the family construction company for nearly 60 years, the decision was personally and financially sound.
The horses eat 2,500 bales of hay each year, he said, and he spent about $3,000 to do the necessary blood work — testing for illnesses — ahead of the auction.
He wouldn’t say how much money he made from the event but hinted “it got up above $50,000.”
“I didn’t pick them,” he said of the horses that sold, adding that trying to do so would have been too hard. “I sold some I didn’t want to sell.”
At times, as he sat with the auctioneer in July, he tried to “no-sale” — cancel — some of the transactions, but the auctioneer held his ground.
Lowther had worried he would get emotional at the Folly Moon Farm, but he kept him composure. His friends and family offered support and a welcome distraction.
But they worried when he started feeling the effects of the concussion.
They urged him to leave the auctioneer’s side and see a doctor.
Instead, with their help, he left the auction early, and slipped into bed.
“I guess I told you that (story) to tell you I wasn’t worried about (my feelings) at the time,” he said on this December morning.
He sat in his truck, on land he’d cleared, in a pasture he’d planted, among horses he’d raised.
The outside air grew warmer as the sun strained to break through the gray.
Lowther stopped tapping his foot.
And, for a moment, it was quiet.
You might also be interested in this video
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
HOW WE KNOW THEM: Some call Ridgeland's D.P. Lowther the savior of the marsh tacky breed, but he recently auctioned half of his roughly 100-horse herd.
WHAT'S NEW: He's trying to strike a balance, further trimming his herd while using a new stud to produce a smaller, more traditionally sized horse.