The spirit and original intent of Hilton Head Island's annual marsh tacky races have been trampled in a dispute over which horses can enter.
When the races were revived in 2009, the idea was to re-create the native islander tradition of racing horses on the beach for fun and bragging rights. Many islanders farmed with work horses known as marsh tackies, descendants of horses left behind by Spanish explorers hundreds of years ago.
The idea of shutting out Mike Cohen Sr., who helped Ridgeland's D.P. Lowther, president of the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, build his herd of marsh tackies, is anathema to that original spirit. Organizers, including Coastal Discovery Museum and the Gullah Celebration Committee, need to go back to the starting line and rethink the bureaucracy and paperwork associated with what should be a fun event.
When Cohen showed up with a stud and a mare at the March 18 race, event organizers called Beaufort County sheriff's deputies to keep him and his son Mike Cohen Jr. from stepping onto the sand with their horses.
The association and the Coastal Discovery Museum said Cohen didn't follow any of the rules for entering horses in the race. They include submitting a hair sample, becoming an association member and filling out a race entry form by the Feb. 15 deadline.
Cohen says he had tried to register his horse Sonny but never heard back. Lowther produced a document that showed lab testing done two years ago concluded Sonny didn't match the profile of registered marsh tackies.
To which we say, so what. As Mike Cohen Jr. points out, the marsh tacky races are supposed to be about fun and tradition. No money is on the line for winners.
"This isn't the Kentucky Derby," Cohen Jr. said.
If the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association wants to keep a tight rein on registering the marsh tacky breed, that's a separate issue.
Race organizers should encourage marsh tacky owners to enter the race. We hope the association continues to participate. It benefits a great deal from the publicity and exposure the event offers.
But when native islanders like the Cohens show up with horses that look and act like any marsh tacky we've seen, then line them up and may the fastest horse win. Won't that be fun to watch?