Book stars Marsh Tacky horses and their champion

Clover author rides into S.C. history

news@lakewyliepilot.comFebruary 17, 2013 

— Patricia Stafford’s three-year venture finally arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. With her children’s storybook in hand, her mission and purpose for writing the book has begun.

Stafford read her new book, “Beach Race Champion, A Marsh Tacky Tale,” during the Feb. 9 South Carolina Horsemen’s Council Expo in Camden.

“My goal with the book is to get it into the schools and get a Marsh Tacky to visit when we do readings at the school to educate the children of South Carolina about their very unique horse,” she said.

The Carolina Marsh Tacky is a rare, endangered breed native to South Carolina with Spanish Colonial roots. Thought to be extinct by the 1950s, the breed was rediscovered and DNA confirmed in 2005, “thanks to their relative isolation in South Carolina’s coastal and lowland regions,” according to the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, which formed in 2007 to promote and protect the breed. The Tacky was named the state heritage horse in 2010.

Stafford – a non-native of South Carolina who says “I should have been born here” – fell in love with the Tackies while collaborating with her former Winthrop University colleague Jacquelyn McFadden, head of the school’s government documents, to write a natural history book about the breed.

“I started seeing how much the children enjoyed petting and riding these horses,” she said. “They are the sweetest breed of horse, and I realized the need for a children’s book about these incredible little horses.”

Stafford’s new book is a non-fiction story about Molly, the oldest horse that shows up for the annual South Carolina Marsh Tacky Beach Race in 2011. The previous year, she didn’t win the cup. In 2011, she hoofed it.

“I have retold it so many times until I needed to write it,” she said of Molly’s story.

In fact, it was her two daughters – Shelby Sturdevant, 13, a student at Oakridge Middle School, and Caden Sturdevant, 4, a student at Crowders Creek Elementary – who heard the tale before it was inked to life in pages.

“I was telling bedtime stories to my daughters and it grew into a book,” she said. “They get practiced on a lot. I read it to my kids, friend’s kids, anyone who will listen long enough.”

Brianna Gonzalez, 9, of Lake Wylie, who “loves all animals,” said she loved the book.

“It was a very good book and educational ... and exciting,” she said. “It was kind of new to me.”

Along with the illustrations, including one of Molly taking the lead, one of her favorite parts of the book is the educational facts about the Tackies in the back of the book.

“It’s very cool ’cause maybe if I go to horse show and ask someone about their horse, it could be our state horse,” Brianna said.

Molly, owned by Janson Cox of Bishopville, is delighted to see his horse star as the book’s main character.

“She hasn’t gotten fat headed over it,” joked Cox, who has owned Molly for 13 years.

“I just feel fortunate God gave me Molly, and my job is to let her be the horse she should be,” he said. “It’s nice to see her recognized. Molly is a special horse.”

“It’s up to me to take her out to the people,” Cox said.

Stafford plans to continue Molly’s adventures, too, “it’s just different things she’s done in her life that are very amazing.”

Although Stafford received positive feedback from publishing houses, she said with less than 300 Tackies in existence, “I didn’t feel like waiting.”

McFadden turned her race day photos into what look like oil paintings to illustrate the 24-page book.

“The book is an excellent way to introduce the children to the horses in a way they can understand,” said McFadden, who is secretary of the Marsh Association. “When children get excited about something, usually their parents do, too.”

McFadden, who has been to every beach race since they started in 2009, owns two Tackies – a filly named River and gelding named Yago. But her love for the state horse started years ago when she was a third-grader at Ebinport Elementary School in Rock Hill.

“They are only found in South Carolina. They helped plow the land, did anything transportation from taking people to the hospital and school, and were very important to farmers and families in the low country and Gullah culture.

“Almost everyone had one out in their yard and used them for work, hunting and children rode them,” she said.

Preserving the breed is crucial to South Carolina’s history, McFadden said.

“And it’s important because we almost lost them,” she said. “A couple low country families kept the breed pure and that’s what saved them. We need more people involved and more breeders to keep the breed going.”

The annual beach race is one venue for raising awareness. Last year’s race at Hilton Head brought out 7,000 spectators. This year’s race will be held April 27 at Dafuskie Island. Although the venue changes every year, the tradition is important, said McFadden, who is helping to organize this year’s event.

“It’s South Carolina history,” McFadden said.

Want the book?

“Beach Race Champion, A Marsh Tacky Tale,” a nonfiction children’s storybook is available online at through Cost: $14. Summary: In spring 2011 a small, bay Marsh Tacky horse enters the Marsh Tacky Beach Races and astounds everyone with her performance. True to the determination and spirit of her rare breed, Molly proves her worth. She is beloved by her fans and exhibits the characteristics that earned her breed the designation of South Carolina State Heritage Horse. The book also is available online from other major book retailers, including Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit

More about Molly

Marsh Tacky mare Molly, now 24, lives in Bishopville and is owned by Janson Cox, executive director of S.C. Cotton Museum in Bishopville.

Cox said when he found Molly in 2000, she was labeled – without papers – a Morgan. “It’s only been in the past year’s that the Marsh Tacky was recognized. But you could see she looked different,” he said.

Cox said he and other horse owners gathered on Johns Island in 2005 for DNA testing to ascertain Spanish Colonial origin for the Carolina Marsh Tacky breed. Molly is the oldest Tacky known of, Cox said.

Along with Molly’s beach race experience, Cox said she works with him in his cavalry re-enactments and on movie scenes, including “Sherman.”

Molly also is the only horse to be named a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. “She rides with a DAR pin on her,” he said.

Molly’s barn buddies include two other mare Tackies – her offspring, Mariah, and Patches, a rescue.

Molly started her life a plow horse. “She went farm to farm plowing gardens,” Stafford said. “But that’s what Tackies did year’s ago. She is a piece of history.”

About the beach race

In 2010, Molly was the oldest horse at age 21 while racing 3- and 4-year-olds at the beach races at Hilton Head Coligny Beach. The races consist of three heats: mares, geldings and stallions. The winners of each race then race each other. Whoever wins that race gets the cup. Molly didn’t win the cup then, but tried again in 2011.

Molly’s owner, Janson Cox of Bishopville, said she lost the race by six inches the first year.

“She’s not a gal that likes to lose,” he said.

He explained each race heat may consist of more than one race, depending on how many are registered. He said in 2011, there was one race for stallions, two for geldings and four for mares before the race for the cup.

“So Molly was already handicapped and still outsnookered them,” he said. In fact, she was so far ahead, he said, “it was not a race.”

Molly won’t race again, though, Cox said,

“You don’t go back to a race you won,” he said. “But I think she’d still beat them.”

The 2013 annual Marsh Tacky Beach Race will run at noon April 27 on Daufuskie Island. Visit for more information.

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