22 Mar 2021 Oldest breed in Great Britain rarer than a panda
The Suffolk horse dates back to the sixteenth century and can trace its male lines back to one stallion; a horse called Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, foaled in 1768. The Suffolk, the “Great War” horses of the Medieval era, fought in mortal combat. However, eastern England’s quiet farmers had ideas other than mortal combat and developed their own bred their draft horse, the Suffolk Punch.
Today, the mighty Suffolk Punch is on the critically endangered list.
The Suffolk Punch originates in the county where I was born. Bordered on the north, east, and south by the North Sea, and by the Fens on the west, the Punch is affectionately known plowed heavy, dense clay soil. With heightened stamina and strength, the Punch powered its way through fields and harvests for eastern England. All horses in the studbook, including those born today, trace their male lines back to the foundation stallion Crisp’s Horse of Ufford, foaled in 1768.
This brings us back to why the Suffolk Punch is endangered.
The Suffolk Horse Society, based in Rendlesham, Suffolk, and the breed society for the Suffolk Punch estimates that less than five hundred horses of this breed are currently registered in the UK. In 2017, twenty-five foals were recorded, yet the Rare Breeds Survival Trust fears that the breed could be extinct by 2027, less than six years from today. A 2021 Stud Listing Booklet has recently been made available online.
Foal births are celebrated with great joy and bring hope for the breed’s survival, as reported by BBC Suffolk in 2018.
Before the COVID pandemic, the Suffolk Horse Spectacular and County Fair welcomed visitors from across the UK each year. Spectators enjoyed the magnificent Punch in the show ring and executing heavy horse activities.
The Suffolk Spectacular is a fun day out for all the family – you can enjoy the magnificent Suffolk horse in the show ring, being put through its paces in a variety of challenging heavy horse activities, in the beautiful setting of Marks Hall. Even though I spent a considerable amount of my childhood a stone’s throw from the Spectacular and the Suffolk Punch Trust, I never visited.
Friends of my family, hailing from Felixstowe and ardent horse lovers, attended the fair often and snapped great photos for me and are included in this blog post. The farmers of yesterday, as well as the Suffolk Punch breed, are slowly fading into history.
On one of the last visits my mother’s friends made to the Suffolk Spectacular, an old farmer dressed in corduroy explained in a broad Suffolk accent how he had bred the mare next to him and presented the horse to Queen Elizabeth II. History hangs on by a thread in so many parts of our world.
The Suffolk Spectacular hopes to return in 2021, but its longevity is still a question mark.