Despite losing its sponsor, the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association says it will continue to race the horses along the beach on Daufuskie Island as planned this year. But it aims to move the event elsewhere along the South Carolina coast, including possibly back to Hilton Head Island, with a new sponsor in 2015.
This year's race is set for March 29. "We will have a race, but it won't be on as grand a scale," said association secretary Jackie McFadden.
Previous marsh tacky races were held on neighboring Hilton Head during the annual Gullah celebration, which kicks off Friday. The races were moved to Daufuskie last year after two sponsors pulled out late in 2012. A disagreement between the association and native islanders about who could compete in the annual run also caused acrimony.
Marsh tackies are slightly smaller than standard horses and are descended from Spanish horses brought to the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands in the 1500s.
About 1,500 people watched last year's fifth annual Marsh Tacky Beach Race, sponsored by Melrose on the Beach, a resort on Daufuskie's eastern shore.
McFadden said Melrose can no longer afford to sponsor the event and is selling the stables used to board the marsh tackies. Attempts Tuesday to reach a Melrose spokeswoman were unsuccessful.
Instead, the association will conduct the race with help from Daufuskie ferry operator Wick Scurry and Bloody Point Golf Club and Resort, McFadden said.
Scurry, owner of J&W Corp., has agreed to again haul the horses over by barge and run a ferry from Hilton Head. Bloody Point has agreed to run a ferry from Savannah, and a private owner on Daufuskie has agreed to board the horses, McFadden said. Attempts Tuesday to reach a Bloody Point representative were unsuccessful.
With Melrose out as sponsor, the venue was changed to the public beach access between Bloody Point and Melrose. The format, however, will be the same, McFadden said.
Riders atop saddled mares, geldings and stallions will race the 400-yard beach course. Winners in each class will get trophies and the chance to compete for the Marsh Tacky Cup, which goes to the fastest horse. McFadden said about 15 horses are expected to compete, the same as last year.
Organizers acknowledge the challenges in hosting the event on an island with no bridge. There is no cost to attend the race, but spectators who don't live on Daufuskie must pay $50 for round-trip ferry tickets or make other arrangements.
Hundreds are expected to attend this year, but that's far fewer than the several thousand who watched on Hilton Head, McFadden said.
"For future races, we are trying to look for a place on Hilton Head to allow more people to attend," she said. "We realize it's cost prohibitive for people to come over to Daufuskie on the ferry, but appreciate all Daufuskie has done" to accommodate the race.
On Hilton Head, the Gullah Celebration will conclude its monthlong celebration with a Marsh Tacky Horse Exhibition on Feb. 23 on Beach City Road.
The event will feature horses and riders from the Black Cowboy Festival in Rembert, who will participate in horsemanship demonstrations and share the history of African-American cowboy and farm life, festival director Sandra Myers said.
The Gullah community used the horses for everything from field work and transportation to celebrating the holidays by racing them.