Breeding boost for a treasured county icon

THEY are a treasured icon threatened with extinction – risking the loss of a sacred part of Suffolk’s agricultural heritage.

But the county’s magnificent heavy horse continues to defy the odds.

Although still rare, an impressive 50 Suffolk Punch foals have been born this year – much to the delight of those who have been fighting to secure the breed’s survival.

The working horse has been threatened with extinction since they were replaced by tractors and other machinery on farms in the middle of the last century.

But thanks to the hard work of a variety of organisations, the breed has been making something of a comeback in recent years – with around 450 across the country.

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According to the Suffolk Horse Society, which is dedicated to preventing the Punch from disappearing, 50 foals were born and registered this year throughout the UK.

Most of these – 14 – were in Suffolk but there were also births in other places including Worcestershire, Norfolk, Cornwall, Kent and the Isle of Man.

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A growing awareness of their plight, advances in science and a change in the reasons behind their breeding have all helped to increase numbers.

Jeff Hallett, chairman of the Suffolk Horse Society, said: “In the 1950s things were at a really low ebb. However we have made a lot of effort to encourage breeders.

“They may no longer be a great commercial proposition but for hobby people such as myself, taking the horses out for a walk or working them in the meadow gives you a great deal of satisfaction.

“It has been a very good year, and certainly better than previous ones, but we must not get complacent.

“The numbers are still quite low. Although foals are born, there are also deaths, so there is only a slow increase in the population. They are still on the critical list.

“The breed is incredibly important in terms of heritage and is an icon of Suffolk. It is vital we keep it going.”

On Sunday the Suffolk Horse Society will be holding its fundraiser at Easton Farm Park.

The Suffolk Horse Spectacular is happening from 10am and will feature the largest gathering of Suffolk Punch heavy horses in the UK.

The day will also include demonstrations and a grand parade at 4.15pm.

Fiona Siddall, from Easton Farm Park, which had two Suffolk Punch fillies born this year, said: “Our Suffolk Punches will be out on Sunday and we are very much looking forward to it. It is the biggest fundraiser the Suffolk Horse Society has so we are hoping as many people as possible come along.”

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