Over a decade ago my co-conspirator and library supervisor, Jackie McFadden told me not to roll a particular bookcart back to the stacks for re-shelving. This time we were going to commit and complete a manuscript on a chosen topic. It was 2006. Jackie McFadden had found the bill for the Marsh Tacky horse in the SC legislature. The bill passed in 2010, but we haven’t completed the book yet – it is still a work in progress . We hope to complete it this year.
Little did we know that bookcart would soon turn into small libraries in each of our homes, multiple plastic containers filled with interviews, newspaper clippings, a small grant for interviews, but still no book. We would visit the coastal side of South Carolina to wake up in nearly hurricane-like conditions to meet horses and their owners in gusty winds and hard rain. We listened to the old-timers, we pulled hair for DNA samples in that weather on Johns Island. We met Molly and her person, Janson Cox who generously allowed Jackie McFadden to pull Molly’s mane hair for DNA testing.Of course, he mentioned he didn’t want Molly mad at him for the hair pulling!
I met the owner of the horse I would own a decade later. Jackie McFadden eventually became a board member of the newly founded Carolina Marsh Tacky Association. And nothing slowed down long enough for us to write more than a few notes that lead to more research. There was always another interview, another mystery horse, another test result or another stash of historical papers uncovered. There were always things we could do for CMTA such as make informative brochures, design t-shirts or even give talks on the Marsh Tacky Horse.
Marsh Tacky horse owners traveled hours to come to events across the state to show people this amazing little horse that was such a lowcountry secret it was almost extinct. They didn’t ask for money to travel, they did it on their own dime.That is how much they believe in this little horse. They believed it needed to be the South Carolina State Heritage Horse.
We have been graciously invited to and/or received to places such as Ketchen Place Farm, Carolina Fresh Farms in Rock Hill, SC, Sparkleberry Fair, Old McCaskills Farm, The Bagel Boat, Charleston County Library, and schools from Kershaw County, York County, and Chester Counties. Apologies to those I may have left out. (Send me a note and we’ll do another blog post on where we’ve been!)
Meanwhile the state bill loomed over our office, rejected time and again, countless re-writes and modifications. Four years later in 2010, (and who knows how many miles on rental cars or personal vehicles!) Jackie McFadden met with Governor Sanford of South Carolina along with other Marsh Tacky Breeders and enthusiasts when he signed the “South Carolina State Heritage Horse”, the Marsh Tacky, bill into law. Without a single cent to taxpayers! The “South Carolina State Heritage Horse” was finally one of our state symbols! DP Lowther, one of the breeders with the longest unbroken history in Marsh Tacky horses, asked Jackie McFadden to come pick out a horse. She did, and named her Little Miss River.
The Marsh Tacky horse is DP, a stud owned by David Grant and named in honor of DP Lowther.
As researchers, every nugget of information we found turned into another question about the Marsh Tacky. The most important one however was “How will anyone know we have a State Heritage Horse?” Truly a grassroots program began in education – a volunteer with a horse (Janson Cox), a volunteer with a camera (Jackie McFadden), and a volunteer with a notepad(me) got together and dubbed ourselves, “Team Molly”in 2010 at the second annual Carolina Marsh Tacky Association beach race. It was three years later and the official studbook had closed, the bill had passed and over 3,000 visitors were expected to see the race.
Molly sized up the competition that year and did not take home the trophy. The next year 2011, Molly showed the young horses how it was done, however. If she could rock the Marsh Tacky world being the oldest horse on the beach and out-run stallions, we had some more work to do. We pulled together a self-published book, “Beach Race Champion” and got to work. Molly the oldest horse in the race had the youngest rider!
We visited schools, historical sites, events, festivals,4-H clubs, businesses. The book sales provided some gas money to haul a horse on occasion but we still filled up our tanks and got our meals on the road. Molly’s jockey, Brittany would visit the schools and talk about riding a beach race horse whenever she could.
We soon realized one horse, even if it was the magnificent Molly, could not possibly cover the entire state of South Carolina. So we reached out to owners who cared about educating our state about its new South Carolina State Heritage Horse, the Marsh Tacky. And they did, they traveled wherever there was a need to have a horse so people would know about them. And they still do.
Over the past ten years we have been collecting oral histories, family histories and stories, getting to know owners new and old and relentlessly searching for what one of our interviewees called “a paper clip, you are searching for something everyone had and they forgot they had it”. We hope to complete more childrens books about Molly once our “Natural History of the Marsh Tacky” is complete.
I would like to take a moment to thank some of the horses for the visits:
Molly, a mystery mare Marsh Tacky, who pretty much owns Janson Cox and reminds him that all Calvary cannons will go uphill in any weather, despite the riders discomfort. She is also a Daughter of the American Revolution and Calvary mount.She has been in educational documentaries about the Revolutionary War.
Gator, a shiny grulla Marsh Tacky Stud, owned by Jim & Kim Brown, have graciously showed up at my own local school district in Clover, SC as well as in schools in Chester, SC with the toughest group of teenagers.Eventually Gators good-natured attitude persisted until the teens could not resist petting Gator. Then it was ‘Totally Awesome’ to pet Gator. Gator has also been in documentaries about the SC state Heritage horse.