Britain’s oldest native breed horse is more endangered than China’s giant panda or the Siberian tiger. Only 300 Suffolk Punches remain in the UK. Both the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the UK and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy consider its status critical.
The Suffolk Punch originated from Medieval WARHorses, sturdy mounts on which titans clashed in combat. Geographically isolated in eastern England for centuries the breed was refined for farming. Its confirmation large, symmetrical and of uniform chestnut color. A true draft, the Punch’s legs are short and strongly muscled. Their upright shoulder is designed for power instead of action. The Punch is known for it’s determination, stamina and docile nature.
During WW1 Britain’s military made use of the Punch enlisted to haul heavy artillery to the front lines. Thousands died and the breed was nearly eradicated. Post war, the need for drafts was great. England’s farmers looked to the Suffolk Punch’s strength and determination to till the heavy soil, sow the harvest and feed a hungry nation. The breed rebounded until the infusion of mechanized tractors in the 30’s. The breed has since been in steady decline.
Today one woman, a WARHorse, is fighting for their survival. Clare, Countess of Euston in Suffolk County is determined to save the Suffolk Punch. The Countess is Lord-Lieutenant for Suffolk and a breeder of Suffolk Punch horses. Her stallion, Euston Malachite is a grand champion and sire of many more. She is working with conservation groups to establish a viable breeding program.
“If we lost the Suffolk Punch I think it would mean we couldn’t really say we are a nation of animal lovers. They are the most magnificent and beautiful of the breeds,” remarked the Countess.
As part of her campaign the Countess has written an essay on the plight of the breed included in Derry Moore’s new photography book, “Horses: Portraits by Derry Moore” (available 9-27,2016 Rizzoli Publishing)
Thankfully the Countess is not alone in her efforts to save the breed. There are many individual and foundational stewards working to preserve the heritage of England’s draft. The Suffolk Punch Trust (near Woodbridge) operates a stable and education center providing visitors with tours and opportunities to meet these great drafts face-to-face.
“His color is bright chestnut,” wrote Marguerite Henry in her 1951 Album of Horses, “like a tongue of fire against the black field furrows, against green corn blades, against yellow wheat, against blue horizons.”
Feature Photo Courtesy: The Suffolk Horse Society/Kevin Wright