Endangered Marsh Tacky Horses DNA Tested for Conservation


The Equus Survival Trust recently sent a team to South Carolina to collect DNA samples and take photos of the largest remaining herd of Carolina Marsh Tackys. This herd can trace its heritage back to the Civil War. The Trust invited livestock organization American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) to participate in further identifying the horses in a joint effort to help breeders produce the first studbook for the breed, which has existed for 400 years.

Nearly 60 head of semi-feral horses of all ages belonging to DP Lowther, a third generation breeder, were rounded up to pull mane hair. The results will help ensure the conservation of the critically endangered breed. Samples will be sent to Gus Cothran, PhD, at Texas A&M University to analyze.


Marsh Tacky

The Equus Survival Trust estimates 100-150 Marsh Tacky horses remain.

"The DNA samples will reveal what markers they carry, hopefully Spanish and thereby confirm their connection to Colonial Spanish grouping," said Victoria Tollman, executive director of the Equus Survival Trust. "DNA will also permanently identify each horse for the studbook. These foundation animals will then be able to be referenced for parentage verification of progeny and help assure the purity of the future bloodstock. 
"Also, the samples as a group will help Dr. Cothran continue mapping out the equine family tree of the world's horses.  And lastly, the DNA will show the relatedness of the present 'herd.' This info will show how healthy and how diverse the herd is. Based upon those findings, Dr. Cothran can make recommendations on breeding management, the goal being to keep the gene pool genetically diverse and healthy," Tollman said.


Descending from stock brought by the Spanish, these little horses of the upper southeastern coast are likely some of the original rootstock for the foundation Quarter Horse and the Kentucky Mountain saddle horses. In Colonial times they were used on cattle drives, and for general riding, transport, and farming. The breed's ability to safely navigate marshy swamps and tolerate biting insects made them exceptional saddle and hunting horses in the low country.

Today its fate rests in the hands of a few dedicated breeders. A bill has been introduced requesting the breed designated as the official State Horse of South Carolina.

With approximately 100-150 horses taking their final stand in the low country of South Carolina, the Equus Survival Trust lists the status of the Carolina Marsh Tacky as Critical.

The Equus Survival Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps coordinate and support the conservation efforts of over 25 endangered historical breeds and their associated organizations. Its mission is to protect the genetic diversity of all historic horses, ponies, and donkeys currently threatened with extinction and to enhance the survival of these endangered breeds through education, media support, and grassroots networking as it relates to conservation. For more information on the group see www.Equus-Survival-Trust.org.  

For more on Marsh Tacky horses see Va. Tech Researcher Using Genetics to Preserve Rare Breeds.

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