Meet The Breed

Learn more about different breeds.

leo tire w500 h500 300x200Photographs provided by Erica Anne De Flamand

Why this breed?

At Triple Play Farm in Davidson, we have a soft spot for draft horses and the more rare, the better. So we were especially excited in 2011 during a visit to Clover Oaks Farm outside of Tampa, Florida, when we were introduced to the breathtaking Ardennes breed. Upon first glance, we were immediately struck by the massive bulk of the horses, but shortly after that, we were intrigued by their calm, gentle nature. Joyce Concklin’s herd of Ardennes, consisting of a stallion, three mares and three yearlings, were quite simply the quietest horses that we had ever met.

leo standing w500 h500 300x200In 2003, Joyce visited Belgium and subsequently purchased two Ardennes horses, the first of their kind to be imported to the United States. Since then, she has created a small but successful Ardennes breeding program, due largely to her stallion Simba du Pont de Tournay [barn name Simba]. This magnificent roan stud was chosen to be the Celebration Horse at Breyerfest 2015 and created quite a stir in Lexington. He is a stunning example of the breed at 15hh and almost 1700 pounds. Simba shares bloodlines with some of the horses of Celtic Horse Logging, an environmentally-friendly timber harvesting company based in the UK that breeds horses for their strength, durability and stamina. Joyce describes Simba as “a big teddy bear.”

leo saddle w500 h500 333x270Breed history

Ardennes horses (known as Ardennais in Europe) hail from the rugged and tough Ardennes region that borders France and Belgium. The rough terrain and harsh climates of the area have played a part in the evolution of the breed. Ardennes are known for being strong and tractable and are one of the oldest established heavy horse breeds, dating back to the Paleolithic Period. The Ardennes is thought to be a direct descendant of the Solutrian horse, which existed circa 50,000 B.C.

Throughout history, references to the Ardennes horses have been recorded by emperors, kings and knights. They were even mentioned by Julius Caesar, who stated in commentaries that “the horse of the second Belgium” is “rustic, hard and tireless.” It is said that Napoleon owed his return from the Napoleonic Wars to his Ardennes cavalry which withstood cold and privations that destroyed over 10,000 horses. Knights of the Middle Ages found the breed to be reliable and easily capable of carrying the weight of a fully armored soldier. Today across Europe, Ardennes horses are still used in commercial forestry, farming, competitive driving and as pleasure and therapy horses.


leo runnning w500 h500 300x200Breed Characteristics

The modern Ardennes is more thickset than any other draught horse and has been described as being built like a tractor. He has a wide frame and a rather short back with very muscular loins. The legs are lightly feathered, and the feet, in comparison with the massive body, are smaller than might be expected, although they are well-made, strong, and seldom flat or brittle. The Ardennes has small, pricked ears, which is unusual in heavy breeds. Because of his exceptionally good shoulders, his action is typically free, animated, and straight. The climate in the French Ardennes is harsh, and the winters are severe. Consequently, the Ardennes horse is extraordinarily hardy, and has a very strong constitution. The breed has a reputation for extreme docility and exemplary gentleness, and can be handled easily, even by children. The preferred colors, as stipulated in the breed standard, are roan, red-roan, iron grey, dark or liver chestnut, and bay. Bay-brown, light chestnut, and palomino are admissible, while black, dapple grey, and any other coat colors are not.


leo kid w500 h500 300x200Clover Oaks Farm Leo

Back in 2011, as we stood in Joyce’s pasture with three of her yearling colts, we decided that Clover Oaks Farm Leopold was destined to become a therapy horse back in North Carolina. He arrived in Davidson as a yearling in the summer of 2011 and has been raised in an environment where he lives in a herd and has had constant handling using natural horsemanship techniques. He was started slowly and correctly under harness as a two year old and under saddle as a four year old in the tradition of the more slowly maturing draft breeds. Currently, he continues to accumulate training miles under saddle, but his day job is working with behavioral health clients at Triple Play. He works with clients struggling with challenges related to depression, anxiety, marital stress, eating disorders, PTSD, ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and more. There is a special significance to his work with our veteran clients given the breed’s history of military usage, including pulling artillery in World War I. It is truly a full circle moment to have this noble breed contributing to the rehabilitation of combat warriors. Around the barn, Leo’s nickname is “Wreck It Ralph.” He often seems to prefer the company of humans to other horses and has been taught to fetch his feed pan and offer it for refills. He is unflappable and endearing and we can’t imagine the farm without him. We are hoping for many more years of his wonderful company and although he is one of fifteen total Ardennes in the United States, he is truly one in a million to us. We invite you to come meet him at one of the Triple Play Farm quarterly Open House events which are open to the public and where you can meet our herd, including Fjords, Ardennes and miniature horses and learn more about our therapeutic services.

Average Height: 14-15.2 hands Colors: any solid color including bay, black, chestnut, & grey. May also exhibit “rabicano” characteristics (“roaning” appearance, white hairs throughout coat and/or predominantly in flank and girth areas, as well as tail).

WH Carolina Blu, a 14 year old SE Arab mare owned by Martha & David Lucas of Whitehaven Plantation and loved by Alyssa Fix of Statesville, NC. Photo by The Summer House

Ask your average person about the Arabian horse, and they’ll usually describe a beautiful, yet hot & spirited steed – pretty to watch, but not something they’d want to ride every day. Yet, ask your average Arabian owner and they’ll tell you stories of never-ending loyalty, a “do-anything” attitude, and above average intelligence and sensitivity. Once someone has been enchanted by the Arabian horse, they rarely want to ride another breed!

The Arabian horse is 100% “pure in blood”, as it is the only breed in which no out-cross is permitted, or has ever been permitted in history. The Arab is actually considered a distinct sub-species rather than just another breed due to this. Arabians have been used to create nearly all of our recognized light horse breeds, from Morgans, to Thoroughbreds, to Quarter Horses and even gaited horses.

Cinderella Story, a 16 year old SE Arab mare working cows with then owner Trisha Dingle. “Daisy” is now proudly owned by an 11-year old girl who does pony club with her. Photo courtesy of the owner

There are many “types” of Arabians in the world, but the Egyptian is the rarest and generally thought of as the most beautiful. They can trace their heritage back to the desert origins of the Arabian Peninsula, back to the mares and stallions of Viceroy Mohammed Ali and his grandson Abbas Pasha I. They are considered pure of strain, having come in unbroken lines from Bedouin tribes in the Arabian deserts, who could recite their horses’ pedigree from memory. If you follow the pedigree back far enough of today’s Egyptian Arabian, you will finally come to a line that simply says “Desert Bred”.

Tum-dressage – WH Marengo, a 12 year old SE Arab stallion owned and shown in second level dressage by Trisha Dingle of Hickory, NC. Photo by Judy Robichaux

When Abbas Pasha was assassinated in 1854 his fabled stud was disbanded and his horses scattered. Many were exported to England and became part of Crabbet stud, owned by Lady Anne Blunt (descendents of these horses now known as “Crabbet Arabians”). Others ended up in Poland (“Polish Arabians”) and still others in Russia (“Russian Arabians”). While descending from the original desert-breds, these other types were bred for various characteristics and not necessarily staying true to the original Bedouin ideals. The true original “desert bred Arabian” was in danger of extinction, until the Royal Agricultural Society (R.A.S) was formed in Egypt in 1908 to assure the preservation of what was surely an historic national treasure. The R.A.S is now known as the Egyptian Agricultural Organization (E.A.O).

Desert Sword, a 24 year old SE Arab gelding with breeders/owners Martha & David Lucas of Whitehaven Plantation in Bishopville, SC. Photo circa age 14 – Sword has been successful in halter, flat track racing, and is an endurance champion as well as having been David’s personal riding horse. Photo courtesy of the owner

As a desert horse, the Egyptian Arabian was bred for strength, heart, and stamina. They were prized by the tribes that bred them, so beauty was also an important characteristic, as was loyalty. It is said that in the case of a sand storm Bedouin chiefs would leave their wives and children outside while their prized broodmares were kept in the tent for safety. Ask anyone who rides an Egyptian nowadays, and they will tell you this heart and loyalty is still very much present.

In the United States, The Pyramid Society was organized to help preserve this incredible horse in America. Every year in June the Egyptian Event is held at the KY Horse Park in Lexington, as a way to showcase the breed in halter and performance classes. Educational seminars for breeders, trainers, and prospective owners are held all week, and it is a wonderful way to learn more about the breed and to connect with other admirers.

WH Marengo, a 12 year old SE Arab stallion, schooling cross country with owner Trisha Dingle of Hickory. Photo by The Summer House

Although known primarily for their exquisite beauty – a large dark eye, “dished” profile, pronounced forehead (known as a “jibbah”) and long arched neck – like other types of Arabians the Egyptian excels at more than just halter classes. Because of their strength and stamina they make incredible endurance horses. Their athleticism helps them perform in dressage and other sport horse disciplines (yes, even jumping!), and their beauty makes them appealing western pleasure horses. Thanks to their high level of intelligence, many Egyptian Arabs are used for cutting and working cow horse classes, as well as general ranch work. And despite being considered “spirited” by some, they, in fact, are fabulous youth and family horses – as long as you respect his intelligence the Egyptian Arabian will try it’s heart out for you!

To learn more, visit The Pyramid Society at

The Secret Weapon of South Carolina Hog Hunters

Photos by Dwain Snyder, Equestrian Images

One of South Carolina’s best kept secrets is the Marsh Tacky, but word is getting around about these sturdy little horses that have no quit in their anatomy. The critically endangered breed has received quite a bit of attention in the past five years, including being named South Carolina’s State Heritage Horse.

The Marsh Tacky’s bloodlines can be traced back to the Spanish Colonial horses that arrived with the early settlers of the United States of America in the 1500s. South Carolina is located on the U.S.’s eastern seaboard and has many coastal islands where small bands of wild horses spawning from these early settlements lived for hundreds of years in near isolation.

Marsh Tackies played a significant role in South Carolina’s history as they were culled from these roaming herds and became the main workhorse for the people who lived in the coastal lowlands. They plowed the fields, carried the men on hunts and drove the family to town. Historical records from the American Revolutionary War have made note of the “Tacky” horse being used by the famous U.S. General Francis “Swampfox” Marion. His militia rode swift, sure-footed horses that easily eluded the British Calvary in the swamps and marshes of South Carolina. Notable naturalist John James Audobon in the 1800s mentioned Tackies in his field journals, describing them “tough as pine knots.”

Tough as Pine Knots
Today, we still use the same expression to describe our beloved Marsh Tackies. Average height is 14.2 hands and weight under 1,000 pounds, but they have big hearts and sensible minds. We use our Tackies for hog and deer hunting, so these qualities are essential when navigating the black water swamps and river bottoms of South Carolina. It is nothing for us to sling a 200-pound whitetail buck over the saddle pommel or dally up a 300-pound boar hog to these little horses to drag it out of the woods – in addition to bearing the weight of rider and tack.

marsh 3 w500 h500 300x240The terrain is often boggy and riddled with old stump holes and deadfall. A horse can quickly become tangled in vines and must not panic as he waits to be cut free. He must be agile enough to climb up a near vertical incline, just to slide down the other side. He must be able to thread his way through a tight stand of pines and feel his feet sinking deep in the soft, sucking mud without losing his footing, or his mind. We often tell folks who join us for a hunt, “Don’t get in the way of your horse. He’ll do the job for you.”

These Marsh Tackies exhibit strength and athleticism comparable to a well-bred Quarter Horse. But unlike the QH, the thick hairy hide of the Tacky protects it from the briars and the biting yellow flies that are prolific in the hot, humid summer months South Carolina is known for. You can be sure a boar hog is going to nestle down in the thickest stand of undergrowth or the muddiest muck hole, and there is only one way to get them: on the back of a Marsh Tacky.

marsh 2 w500 h500 210x300Team Marsh Tacky Effort
Carolina Marsh Tacky Outdoors, also known as Team Marsh Tacky, is the name of our outfit located in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. From September to January, we hunt deer from horseback, but it’s open season on feral hogs year round. We use two types of dogs to hunt hogs: bay dogs and catch dogs. Bay dogs are very vocal and harass the hog, working to keep it cornered until the catch dogs arrive. Catch dogs latch onto the head of the hog and hold it until we join the melee and dispatch the hog with a knife.

“Hog hunting is a rough game for rough folks,” says David Grant, owner and manager of Carolina Marsh Tacky Outdoors. “The horses have to be tough and the dogs tougher. All involved must have grit – true grit.”

Grant started hog hunting with other breeds of horses, but they would become bloodied and sore from South Carolina’s unofficial state plant, briars, and the demands of the terrain. He got turned on to the Marsh Tacky while hunting with a group in the lower part of the state.

Small, wiry horses with narrow chests and sloping croups, Marsh Tackies aren’t much to look at, but they have the stamina to go all day and the courage to go wherever we point them. Often times the only way to get to a hog is through one long thick bed of briars. Our Tackies will hop like a rabbit on top of the briars or bulldoze their way through it.

“The tougher the situation, the tougher these Tackies get,” Grant said. “They are bold and gamey. When the dogs bay, you’d better be hanging on because they will take you at break-neck speed right into the fight. I mean all four feet standing in the mix of hog and dogs.”

We bring the fight to the hogs in their backyard, which gives the hogs the advantage. However, riders, horses and dogs execute a well-orchestrated plan of attack, and Team Marsh Tacky gets the job done more often than not.

Saving the Breed
Grant is among the dedicated breeders and owners who have supported initiatives to preserve the dwindling numbers of Marsh Tackies. Rediscovery and recovery of the breed began in 2005 when the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy traveled to South Carolina to determine where the breed still existed. A little more than 100 Tackies were found and their heritage confirmed by DNA samples. In 2007, long-time owners who have had these horses in their families for generation, as well as new fanciers of the breed, came together to create the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association to support and promote the Marsh Tacky horse. Today, there are about 309 horses listed in the Carolina Marsh Tacky Registry.

A tradition of racing Marsh Tackies on the beaches of the Lowcountry of South Carolina was brought back several years ago, and most recently the race was held on Daufuskie Island, where Marsh Tackies once populated the island as wild horses. There is no purse for the winner of the race – just bragging rights and a trophy.

On the Backs of Brave Steeds
We’ve invited many fine horsemen to join us on our hunts who have never ridden a Marsh Tacky, let alone heard of one, and the comments afterwards are always the same: “That’s an impressive little horse.”

One well known clinician, Joe Most of Perfect Partners Equine, who killed his first hog riding along with Team Marsh Tacky, described the Tackies as the Army Jeep of horses, designed to go anywhere and everywhere.

As for Grant, he has found a kindred spirit in the Tacky.

“We’re both gritty as hell. When all the chips are down and most would give up, I know I can depend on my horse to keep going,” he said.

Scottish writer and adventurer R.B. Cunningham Graham penned a book, “Horses of the Conquest,” which was a study of the steeds ridden by the Spanish conquistadors as they explored the uncharted territory of the New World.

“Sometimes I will turn around in my saddle and look at Team Marsh Tacky mounted up and ready to do battle. The horses are prancing, the dogs are gamey, and I am transported back to a time when Cortés and his fellow conquistadors also headed into an unforgiving landscape,” Grant said. “On the back of a brave stallion he did ride, and so do I.”

Visit these two websites to learn more about the Marsh Tacky breed and Equestrian Images photography – and

Check out this Horse Tales episode about the Marsh Tacky!