The Suffolk Punch

The Suffolk Horse is always chesnut in colour (note the traditional spelling without the 't'), often accompanied with a star on the forehead, or a thin reach, blaze or shim down the face. No other colour is seen. There are seven recognised shades of chesnut: dark approaching brown-black, liver colour or mahogany chesnut, dull dark chesnut, light mealy chesnut, red, golden, lemon, bright chesnut. Although non standard, the preferred heights are between 16.1hh and 16.2hh for a mare, and 17hh to 17.1hh for a stallion. A mature horse can weigh between three quarters and a full tonne.

The Suffolk is shaped with great width in front and in the quarters. Its short legs and resulting low draught give it a direct pull on its vehicle. The impression is that the body is too big for the legs, giving the breed the nickname 'Suffolk Punch'.
The Suffolk shares a distinctness with the British Percheron of being the only clean-legged draught horse. The breed is famous for its docile disposition and young horses can be quickly schooled to perform any work. Early maturity means that many Suffolks are put to light work at two years of age and go into full work at three, working well into their mid-twenties. Easy keeping qualities are characteristic. Considering the weight and work performed, food consumption is small. The Suffolk can live on an allowance that would have starved the enormous dray horses of Liverpool and London, lasting for long hours without feeding as was practiced on farms.

The breed was predominantly used for agricultural work. According to Camden's 'Britannia', the Suffolk Horse dates back to 1506, originating in Suffolk and the neighbouring counties in East Anglia. This makes the Suffolk the oldest breed of heavy horse in Britain to exist in its present state. Every Suffolk Horse in existence today traces its descent in the direct male line, in an unbroken chain, to a horse foaled in 1768, Thomas Crisp's horse of Ufford. At the time, all the other male lines appear to have died out. This subsequently occurred again at the beginning of the 19th century and in 1940. During the peak of its popularity, East Anglia was isolated from the rest of Britain, and so the breed did not leave its homeland until the 1930s, by which time it was too late.


Eric & Charlie pulling the Bishop & Sons pantechnicon at the London Harness Parade in Battersea Park.
 Early agricultural machinery, ideally suited to the level arable land in East Anglia, resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of Suffolks. In 1966 only 9 foals were born and extinction looked imminent. Fortunately, new breeders have helped to rescue the breed and since then its numbers have slowly risen. The October 1999 census by the Suffolk Horse Society showed that the breed consisted of: 25 registered stallions 96 mares (4 years old and over) 30 fillies (3 years old and under) and 50 geldings This gave a total population of 201. The breeding stock from this is much smaller. In 1999, the number of live foals born was 12. However, the number of live foals born increased to 20 in 2000.

The Suffolk Horse Society is the oldest of its type in the world, founded in 1877. The society publishes newsletters and a Stud Book, as well as running a museum devoted to the breed. Breeding is encouraged through the issuing of premiums and grants. A number of events are also organised by the society, including the Suffolk Punch Spectacular and a Ploughing Match restricted to the Suffolk breed. The main shows for Suffolk Horses are the Suffolk Show, East of England Show, Royal Show, Royal Norfolk Show, and the Essex Show. The Suffolk Horse Society holds its spring show in conjunction with the Woodbridge Horse Show, being the principal show for stallions. The Framlingham Horse Show provides a good display of foals.

A major display of Suffolk Horses can be seen at the Suffolk Punch Spectacular. The Suffolks mane and tail is uniquely braided for the show ring. The tail is braided with raffia to its end then folded up. The mane is completely braided with raffia. Suffolks are shown with leather head collars and bits and it is a Society tradition for the exhibitors to present themselves in a smart manner.

An old tradition of the breed is the inclusion of foot classes at the major East Anglian shows. These were started at the beginning of the 20th century when the Suffolk was often criticised for having poor feet, but the introduction of classes for best feet where the prize money is shared between farrier and groom, and the influence of good footed stallions, has made this criticism completely unjustified.

This article was kindly provided by the Suffolk Punch Horse Society. For further information please visit
The Suffolk Horse Society
Suffolk Punch Pages
 


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Updated: October 2005.