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They say beware the ides of March, but it's the tides of February throwing a wrench in plans for next year's marsh tacky races on Hilton Head Island.
The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, which supplies the Lowcountry breed of stocky horses native to the Sea Islands, says it's having difficulty scheduling its 2012 races and might not run its horses on Hilton Head in February.
The annual race is coordinated by the Coastal Discovery Museum and is a finale to the Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration conducted by the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association.
The race is scheduled for Feb. 26 at Coligny Beach, but tides are expected to create undesirable conditions, said Jackie McFadden, secretary of the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association. High tide will be at 11 a.m. and low tide at about 5 p.m.
"We don't want to run a late afternoon race because we need time for setup, takedown and for people to meet the horses," McFadden said. "It gets dark early in February, and we would like to do all of that before dark. We may also have the problem of tidal pools directly after high tide. We don't want to rush things, because when you do, there can be accidents. We want the race to be safe for everyone, including the horses."
Based on the tides, Feb. 19 is the only date that would work that month, and the native-island association has said it wants to end the monthlong Gullah celebration with the races, she said.
On Wednesday, McFadden said the native-island association might work with the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association to hold the race in March. She hopes to have a new date by the end of the week.
Gullah celebration organizer Charles Young III referred questions to Michael Marks, president and CEO of the Coastal Discovery Museum.
"It's always been a tide-driven event, and the tides are not in our favor this year, and we're looking for a new date that will work," Marks said.
Racing the squat horses on the beach is a Gullah tradition that, like the breed, nearly vanished after Hilton Head's development.
The tackies are descended from horses introduced by the Spanish in the 1500s. They have large heads, narrow chests, short legs and long manes and can work for hours in the heat and humidity. They also are sure-footed in marshes and swamps, which made them ideal for the Lowcountry.
Today, fewer than 300 of the purebred horses remain, McFadden said.
"I'd really like to have our race on Hilton Head, because it's the best beach and a perfect mix of history and culture," she said. "It's a unique experience. People are calling me from outside the state, including Maine, booking flights around the race just to see the horses. ... People do not want to miss the race."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.