Back in March, I wrote a blog post about efforts being made to strengthen a breed of small horses now known as Carolina Swamp Tackies.
Read more here: http://www.katzenhausbooks.com/blog/Ihorses.aspx
I was fascinated by the story and almost immediately decided to incorporate their story in my work-in-progress, Yankee Reconstructed. In that book, set in 1868, one of the Grenville daughters is a horse-lover, and I thought she would be the perfect person to go out and try to work with this elusive breed. So I posted a couple of pictures, and then put the idea into a side pocket to think about later.
Coincidentally, on the same day I posted my blog, an article appeared in the Lowcountry's local paper "The Island Packet." Jeff Kidd reported that a small herd of "marsh ponies" had made it through this past rough winter. The author started by offering a quick explanation of where the breed came from and what happened to them:
"The herd dates to the late 1950s, when St. Helena Island resident John Henry "Buster" Gay cross-bred Shetland ponies, popular then as a family pet, with marsh tackies, a breed genetically linked to the horses brought to the New World by Spanish explorers. A population has roamed the area since, at some point becoming feral. They proved quite adaptable, subsisting on what they could graze and learning to find sand paths through the flats to avoid the grip of pluff mud."
Read more here: http://www.islandpacket.com/2015/03/09/3634196_little-horse-island-revisited.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
Well, today, I have reached a point in my story where Mary Sue Grenville and several members of her family have a reason to travel to St. Helena Island. Mary Sue has a specific purpose in mind -- to find a place where she could start her own horse farm. But that goal depends on whether she can find some of the original Marsh Tacky horses and work to improve them.
As I've been writing, I've had a worrisome thought niggling at the edges of my mind. It warns that some reader somewhere is going to object to a story in which people go out and round up wild horses to tame them into submission for human uses. I've already been taken to task once lately by an animal lover for letting someone shoot two mules in The Road to Frogmore. What to do?
Quite by accident, today's Facebook came to Mary Sue's rescue (and mine, too!). The website "Beaufort Online" posted an article on the descendants of the Marsh Tackie horses. A reader of the local paper had gone out to see the ponies of Little Horse island and discovered that while they were surviving the winter, they were in poor shape. Here's Susan Trogden's story:
"We did our research and kayaked the difficult waters in hopes of seeing them. Our first trip was early last year, and as we got closer, we could see them grazing in the marsh and paying us no attention. We couldn’t help but notice how thin they were, but we thought this was normal since they are wild and live on marsh grass.
"I snapped a few photos and shared them on my Facebook page. A friend and horse lover, Terry Aitken Long, contacted me privately out of concern for how thin they appeared. She asked if they were the wild ponies and immediately made some calls to get the ball rolling on getting them help. Hay has been delivered occasionally, and they received veterinary treatment last winter.
"Since that first sighting, my friend and I have paddled the waters surrounding this island several times, and we have witnessed their dramatic transformation. For those of you who don’t feel people should intervene with wildlife preservation, please take a look at the before and after photographs to see what locals have done for these beautiful animals. We no longer see the ribs of poorly-nourished ponies—instead, these photographs show that the animals are a healthy weight with thick coats."
There's much more to her story, and Susan has given me her permission to post the rest of her pictures, but this post has gone on long enough. Stay tuned for the weekend, when I'll post the rest of the story.