The Suffolk Punch is Britain’s oldest breed of draught horse and is critically endangered. The breed, also known as the Suffolk Horse, dates from way back in the 16th century although every animal alive today is related through the male line to one stallion; a horse named ‘Crisp’s Horse of Ufford’, who was born in 1768.
The horses were widely used across arable agricultural areas as plough horses. Their powerful frame and calm temperament made them ideally suited to this job but mechanisation effectively made them redundant and their work was taken over by the tractor. By the 1960s the breed had all but died out.
The beginning of 2015 has seen some positive news for the Suffolk Punch. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has announced that there has been a small increase in registered breeding mares from 138 in 2012 to 170. The Suffolk Horse Society estimates that there are only around 520 Suffolk Punches worldwide and that most of these are in East Anglia and Worcestershire in the UK.
The SHS recognised the hard work of breeders in bringing about the increase in numbers and said that the recent recession and financial crisis had played a big part in stifling the increase in numbers. Because of their size, Suffolk Punches need more feed to maintain them than the average riding horse and that coupled with the usual expenses required to keep a horse has proved off-putting to potential owners.
But what appeal could a heavy horse have for today’s equestrians? Well, according to a spokesman for the Suffolk Punch Trust, the breed’s wonderful calm, friendly temperament and sturdy physiology should make them very appealing to potential owners and general, weight-carrying riding horses.
Cross-bred Suffolk Punches have proven themselves to be very versatile with success in show jumping, eventing and showing.
The Suffolk Punch is always chesnut in colour with shades ranging from liver to bright red. Sometimes there are white markings on the face or lower legs – never anywhere else on the body. The mane and tail are flaxen. Unlike other heavy horse breeds, the Suffolk Punch does not have excessive amounts of feathering.
The horses range in height from 16.1hh to 17.2hh and can weigh from 900kg to 1,000kg.
This is a truly wonderful breed and it is hoped that the hard work of the breed societies in the UK and around the world will ensure it retains its place in the present day as well as in the history books.
Image source: Suffolk Punch Trust