The marsh tacky horse races that drew thousands to Hilton Head Island’s beaches in recent years — but also caused friction with some native islanders — are moving across Calibogue Sound.
The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association announced Wednesday that it will run its 2013 races from Daufuskie Island’s South Beach access point. The races will begin at noon April 27. The horses will arrive by barge in the morning before the race.
“Because of the logistics involved on an island with no bridge, this might be a smaller event than last year’s on Hilton Head,” Jackie McFadden, the group’s secretary, said in a statement.
“But as many of the breed’s foundation genetics come from Daufuskie, we feel it is very important to bring these horses ‘home’ ... and run them in this historic setting,” McFadden, of Rock Hill, said.
The venue change comes two months after the Coastal Discovery Museum and the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association pulled out as race sponsors. The races began in 2009 and typically occurred during Hilton Head’s month long Gullah celebration, which the island business association operates. The celebration runs this year from Feb. 1 through March 2.
Museum CEO and president Michael Marks said in November that the event had become too large for the nonprofit museum to handle. Thousands of spectators in such close proximity to the 1,200-pound horses also posed a safety and liability risk, he said.
The race’s advance entry rules and its strict requirements that only purebred marsh tackies registered with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy can run also upset some island residents. Those issues boiled over last year when native-islander Michael Cohen and his son were nearly arrested after trying to enter their horses in the race. Cohen believes they were unfairly excluded.
Charles Young III, chairman of the Gullah celebration events, said Wednesday he wasn’t aware the races were moving to Daufuskie.
Although the venue is different, the race formats are unchanged. McFadden said separate races will be held for registered mares, geldings and stallions. The course will run north along the beach for about 400 yards. Winners get “bragging rights” but no prize money, she said.
J&W Corp., which operates ferry and barge service between Hilton Head and Daufuskie, has offered to carry the horses to and from the island free of charge. Participation is limited to the number of trucks and horse trailers that fit on the barge, Daufuskie resident Roger Pinckney said.
Attempts Wednesday to reach J&W Corp. owner Wick Scurry for comment were unsuccessful.
The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association and Daufuskie landowner Plantation Land LLC also are sponsoring the race.
Marsh tackies are an unusual breed left on the South Carolina coast about 500 years ago by Spanish explorers. The animals were integral to Gullah culture for work, transportation and entertainment. Characterized by long, flowing manes, they are slightly smaller than average horses. The breed is considered “critically endangered,” and only about 300 purebreds remain.
McFadden made no promises to keep the races on Daufuskie indefinitely. However, she said the group is happy to be there this year.
“We would consider moving it somewhere else if we had a sponsor, but for this year, we are going to Daufuskie and taking the horses back to Daufuskie.”
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.